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The Inside Scoop: Letang Suspended; Rust Update and More

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

There will be at least one lineup change for the Pens when they host the Washington Capitals in Game 4 of the Second Round series at CONSOL Energy Center on Wednesday.

That change will occur on the blue line.

Defenseman Kris Letang was suspended one game by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety following his hit on Marcus Johansson in Game 3.

“There will be a lot more minutes spread out through all of us,” said Derrick Pouliot, who made his NHL postseason debut in Game 3. “We’re all going to have to step up and take on a little more responsibility.”

Letang is certainly a crucial player to his team and success. But the Pens are more than just one player, as they proved down the stretch run of the season.

“We’ll prepare the same way. We’re not going to change our style of play,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “We’re not going to change our identity just because one guy comes out of our lineup.

“We’ve dealt with this all year, guys go down with injuries for long stretches of time, important players. Our team understands how we have to play in order to be successful. We’ll continue to work that way and prepare that way.”

The Pens may also have to deal with another change at forward as Bryan Rust was listed by the team as day-to-day with a lower-body injury.

Rust’s most likely forward replacement would be Oskar Sundqvist, as Beau Bennett still isn’t cleared to play by team doctors and medical staff.

“Beau Bennett is day-to-day right now. He has not been cleared to play at this point,” Sullivan said. “If and when that happens, that’s when he’ll become an option.”

Sundqvist has played in one NHL postseason game in his career, though that was Game 1 against the NY Rangers in the First Round series three weeks ago.

Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury returned to the lineup, albeit in a backup role, for Game 3 against the Caps.  

Fleury missed the last 12 games for the Pens, including the past seven in the playoffs, with a concussion before being cleared to return on Monday morning.

“It felt long,” Fleury said of his recovery. “I woke up everyday hopefully feeling better. That day took a while to come. It was getting frustrating not being able to play and feel normal everyday.”

Fleury’s health now gives the Pens three possible options in goal with Fleury, rookie Matt Murray and Jeff Zatkoff.

“We have two guys in Marc and Matt that we think are terrific goaltenders, not to discount what (Jeff Zatkoff) has done for our team,” Sullivan said.

It also can make for an awkward situation. Fleury has been the Pens’ starting goaltender for the past decade-plus. But right now Murray is the hot hand having won 12 of his last 13 decisions and coming off of a career-high 47-save effort in Game 3.

Thankfully for the Pens, all three players aren’t likely to create a volatile situation.

“These guys are great pros and good people. They have good relationships. They root for one another,” Sullivan said. “We believe in the team as a whole as being the most important part. That’s the greatest thing about our game, when it becomes something bigger than yourself, it’s a terrific experience.”

While Fleury wants to play, he also understands the situation and will do what is best for the team.

“I love to play. I love the game,” Fleury said. “Those (playoff) games are the most fun, the most intense, the toughest games to win. When you do win it’s such a great feeling. You work all summer and season to make the playoffs and get here and chase the Cup. I wish could play, but that’s how it is, and that’s fine.”

While Fleury is in a supporting role, he is doing everything he can to help the 21-year-old Murray steer through the ups and downs of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

“(Fleury is) a terrific mentor and very supportive of what Matt’s accomplished so far,” Sullivan said. “We look at it as a great situation for all of us that we have these guys healthy and playing right now.”

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