How the Penguins held on to steal Game 4 against the Capitals

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PITTSBURGH — It was never going to be easy for the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night.

Going up against the best team in the NHL without their best player (Sidney Crosby), their best defenseman (Kris Letang) and another 20-goal scorer (Conor Sheary), it was going to take some sort of a Herculean effort to get a win.

They received a couple of them — and some help from the Washington Capitals — to scratch out a 3-2 win to take a 3-1 series lead.

“We’ve been doing it all year,” said Penguins forward Patric Hornqvist, when asked about overcoming the loss of Crosby. “Obviously Sid is a big loss for us and we wanted to get that win for him. We all played really hard. We didn’t play our best game, but we found a way to win and that is all that matters.”

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan called it a “gritty, gutsy, scrappy game.”

That description would be kind of an understatement. It was another night where the Penguins were badly outshot, outchanced, lost the territorial game and pretty much had to hold on to scratch out a win by any means necessary. In other words, the same thing they have been doing all postseason.

Here is how they did it again on Wednesday.

Marc-Andre Fleury was spectacular — Again

This is pretty much where it all begins and ends for the Penguins right now.

This postseason has been something of a redemption tour for Fleury to this point, perhaps getting one last opportunity with the Penguins before some big decisions have to be made this summer. The team in front of him has not always played well this postseason and has looked nothing like the one that cruised through the playoffs a year ago on its way to a Stanley Cup. In Game 4 the Penguins were outshot by a 38-19 margin and spent most of the last 40 minutes pinned deep in their own defensive zone, unable to do anything other than desperately block shots and chip the puck off the glass while the Capitals came at them in waves.

That scene has played out multiple times over the past three weeks.

If Fleury brings anything less than his A-game in those situations the Penguins are not winners of six of their first eight playoff games.

The Capitals’ top players ‘didn’t step up’

On a night where the Penguins were without several of their top players, the Capitals’ top players were unable to take advantage.

It wasn’t necessarily that the Capitals played poorly (that plus-20 shots on goal advantage was not a fluke), but coach Barry Trotz seemed to think his top players had an even higher level they needed to get to and were unable to do it.

“Our top guys didn’t step up tonight,” said Trotz. “Which was unfortunate. Our top players need to play like top players. They didn’t.”

Alex Ovechkin, who was limited to just two shots on goal and took two of the Capitals’ six minor penalties, pointed the finger at himself and said he has to play much better.

“Obviously, I didn’t play my game at all tonight so I think, me personally, I have to play much better.”

The Capitals took six offensive zone penalties

There were two things that stopped the Capitals’ offense tonight.

The first, as mentioned above, was Marc-Andre Fleury.

The second was the Capitals themselves as they were whistled for six — six! — offensive zone penalties. Two by Ovechkin and one each by Tom Wilson, John Carlson, Lars Eller and T.J. Oshie.

The penalty on Oshie, a high-sticking call against Nick Bonino, turned out to be one of the most damaging because it happened with less than two minutes to play in regulation with the Capitals trying to tie the game. Replays showed that Oshie’s stick didn’t really make contact with Bonino’s face, but Oshie still took the blame.

“Tough time to get a penalty. It’s kind of an amateur play by me there,” said Oshie. “I didn’t think I hit him that hard, but I have been on the other side. The natural reaction when you get is your head snaps back a little bit. It’s unfortunate, tough to be in that situation.”

Carlson’s penalty — a roughing call — resulted in Justin Schultz scoring a power play goal mid-way through the second period, just three minutes after the Capitals rallied for two quick goals to tie the game.

Schultz’s goal would end up being the difference in the game.

Hextall’s patience, Elliott’s goaltending playing big roles in Flyers’ turnaround

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PHILADELPHIA — Step inside the Philadelphia Flyers dressing room, look to your right and you’ll notice above a clock on the wall is a sign that reads, “The Star Of The Team Is The Team Itself.” That message has been the thread through an interesting month for the team as they experienced the dregs of a 10-game losing streak before flipping the script and winning six straight.

That sixth win came Saturday night during a 2-1 overtime victory against the Dallas Stars making the Flyers the third team in NHL history (1967 Toronto Maple Leafs, 2005 San Jose Sharks) to reel off six victories in a row after a 10-game winless streak.

It wasn’t that long ago that fans were chanting for general manager Ron Hextall to fire the head coach and there was talk of shipping bodies out of town to shake things up. Those requests, however, were not in Hextall’s plans. The GM defended his team, defended his coach and was not going to make moves for the sake of change. That show of belief was well-received by his players.

“It means a lot. Obviously, Hexy has faith in us. He’s a very patient man, the coaching staff as well,” said forward Wayne Simmonds.

The front office wasn’t going to tear things apart and the players weren’t going to come unglued, even with the pressure of the losing streak growing with each defeat. They can look back now and see that as a takeaway from that experience.

“The most positive thing [was] we didn’t separate, we stuck together as a team and that’s why we’re winning games right now,” defenseman Ivan Provorov said.

The play of the five skaters on the ice has meshed well with the play of goaltender Brian Elliott, who’s been spectacular during this stretch. During this winning streak, he’s been named the NHL’s Third Star of the Week and has posted a .952 even strength save percentage.

“Our team has confidence in him. That’s a real position of strength for our bench, for the guys that are out on the ice,” Hakstol said. “It’s not just the things that you see on a nightly basis on game nights. He does such a real good job on a daily basis of approaching his day of work and that’s something that guys can feed off. They know he does the work. He’s prepared and I think that gives everyone a level of confidence coming into the game.”

It’s been a two-way effort for the Flyers during the streak. They haven’t allowed more than two goals a game and just grinded out a pair of 2-1 victories.. After averaging only two goals scored per game during that 10-game slide, which included being shutout three times, the offense has pumped in 3.5 goals per night. The power play is also cooking at 27.3 percent and their team shooting percentage is moving in the right direction going from 6.45 percent during their November slide to 9.23.

Adding to Provorov’s positive note about what came from the losing streak was also their standing in the Metropolitan Division. You’d think a team that did as poor as they did in November would see themselves with a major hole to dig out of by Christmas, but picking up five loser points helped keep the Flyers a bit above water. And now after picking up 12 out of a possible 12 points, they currently reside four points out of a wild card spot and six points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for third in the division.

Hakstol doesn’t care if you want to call it confidence or swagger, but the Flyers are carrying themselves in that manor. Winning cures all, right? A 10-game streak could have really done damage to the team’s psyche and affected them going forward, but as Hextall said last month, they believed — despite the losses piling up — they weren’t playing bad hockey. It was just a matter of time before they started digging up again.

“You can be playing really well, but when you’re going good you just have that mentality that you’re not going to take less than finding a way to win a game. I can tell you, when you’re on the other end of close losses, tight losses, it starts to wear at you,” said Hakstol.

“But you have a couple of good things happen, along with working hard, paying attention to detail and really sticking together, you get that little injection of adrenaline that helps push you in the right direction.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

The Buzzer: Job of the Hutton

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Players of the Night

  • Carter Hutton has quietly been playing well when used (sparingly) by the St. Louis Blues, but he stepped into the spotlight on Saturday, guiding his team to a 2-0 win against the Winnipeg Jets.

The high-powered Jets fired 48 shots on goal in this one, yet none beat Hutton, who nabbed the ninth shutout of his solid career. The 31-year-old bumped his save percentage up to a whopping .949 so far in 2017-18. He set a Blues record in doing so.

  • On Friday, Jack Eichel collected a hat trick and an assist in a losing effort. Gabriel Landeskog upped the ante one night later – literally – by scoring three goals and two assists in a game his Avalanche managed to lose anyway.

As much attention as Nathan MacKinnon is grabbing (rightfully, as he added two goals to his impressive season so far), this marks the second hat trick of the season for Landeskog. Not bad with it still being 2017, and all.

This was a pretty nasty game between the Avalanche and Lightning, at least at times.

Some key highlights

Technically, you can spell overtime without Alex Ovechkin

(Ovechkin’s already in select GWG company.)

Shayne Gostisbehere scored both of Philly’s goals, but the antics between Wayne Simmonds and Ben Bishop were the real highlight here:

Speaking of Nathan MacKinnon, this is something else:

Mathew Barzal to Jordan Eberle a combination that torments Darcy Kuemper in overtime and Peter Chiarelli, always:

Finally, Jonathan Gibson flashes the glove in defeat:

Factoids

The Lightning keep piling up different milestones and accomplishments, with Mikhail Sergachev ranking among those today (as Tampa Bay won its seventh in a row):

The cold weather didn’t slow Erik Karlsson down (more on that outdoor game here):

Pekka Rinne‘s really been rattling off some milestones lately.

Scores

Oilers 3, Wild 2
Rangers 3, Bruins 2 (OT)
Blues 2, Jets 0
Islanders 4, Kings 3 (OT)
Hurricanes 2, Blue Jackets 1
Flyers 2, Stars 1 (OT)
Senators 3, Canadiens 0
Capitals 3, Ducks 2 (OT)
Penguins 4, Coyotes 2
Lightning 6, Avalanche 5
Predators 2, Flames 0

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Fight video: Brouwer makes Watson pay for Hathaway hit

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Austin Watson nodded with recognition after landing a questionable hit on Garnet Hathaway on Saturday, as he understood why Troy Brouwer demanded immediate retribution.

And, as you can see from the video above the headline, Brouwer got that bloody payback after beating Watson in a fight.

Watson (who isn’t that far removed from a two-game suspension) was ejected for his hit. It wasn’t the only nasty moment between the Nashville Predators and Calgary Flames, either, as the toxic exchanges included Anthony Bitetto‘s ugly cross-check on Sam Bennett.

(Video or a GIF of Bitetto’s hit will be added if it becomes available.)

Some other penalties reduced some of the advantage for the Flames, but they ultimately still received serious man-advantage opportunities amid all of the violence, and they weren’t able to convert.

The best news is that Hathaway might end up being OK after a scary-looking check. He returned to the game during the third period.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Should Erik Johnson be suspended for ugly play on Namestnikov?

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Vladislav Namestnikov has been the Mikael Renberg equivalent on the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Legion of Doom with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov for much of this season, complimenting those two scorers with strong work of his own.

The Lightning were lighting up the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday night, perhaps frustrating Erik Johnson and others. Whatever the explanation might be, it was a pretty ugly sight when Johnson slashed and then boarded Namestnikov, earning those two penalties plus a game misconduct.

Plenty of people believe that supplemental discipline would be merited for Johnson’s actions. For what it’s worth, “Names” did return to action in the third period. We’ve seen instances where players return only to be hurt anyway, so we’ll see if the nifty winger sees any delayed issues.

Johnson, 29, was suspended for two games by the NHL back in 2014, but has a generally clean history otherwise.

The Lightning ultimately ended up beating the Avalanche 6-5, as Nathan MacKinnon almost led a rally with two power-play goals.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.