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No real surprise Penguins are trailing Senators

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The Pittsburgh Penguins romped through the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs, winning 16 games against just eight losses while outshooting their opponents by an average margin of 34.9 to 28.0.

Suffice to say, it has been a much different run a year later.

This time, it’s the Pens who are being outshot by a wide margin, 34.0 to 27.7 after 15 games. They’ve still managed to get to the Eastern Conference Final, but given the way things are going against Ottawa, it’s worth remembering how they got there.

In the first round against Columbus, the big difference was goaltending. Marc-Andre Fleury was excellent and Sergei Bobrovsky struggled so badly that, after it was over, he was reportedly open to seeing a sports psychologist.

In the second round against Washington, the big difference was again goaltending. Fleury was excellent and Braden Holtby wasn’t. The Penguins as a team only played one really strong game, and that was Game 7 at Verizon Center.

Let’s face it, without Kris Letang, it was always going to be tough to match last year’s dominance, and now the Penguins find themselves trailing the Senators, 2-1.

“He’s an elite player,” head coach Mike Sullivan said of Letang, who had neck surgery last month. “He’s not an easy guy to replace. He’s one of those special players that can really take your team to another level. But the reality is what it is. This is the circumstance we’re in. We’ve been in it for a long time. We know we have capable guys that can step in and get the job done, and we’ve got to find ways to win.”

In last night’s 5-1 loss, the Pens were also without defenseman Justin Schultz and forwards Bryan Rust and Patric Hornqvist. Those are three important players for Pittsburgh, and at some point a team simply can’t withstand any more injuries.

The Senators have already taken advantage of one banged-up squad in these playoffs. In the first round, they beat a Boston Bruins team that was missing a number of key defensemen.

That’s the playoffs. Injuries happen. Some teams get lucky, some don’t.

And it’s not just luck that has Ottawa two wins from the Stanley Cup Final. The Sens believe in their system, they’re committed to it, and it’s working for them.

“We were just alive,” coach Guy Boucher said after Game 3. “I think, if you followed all of our games here, that’s how we were. I mean, we’ve had a lot of those games in the playoffs. Just in front of our fans, I think we’ve got a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of energy. And our pressure has paid off against Boston. It’s paid off against the Rangers, and it’s paid off tonight. Our fans love the way we play, and they love the enthusiasm that our players are displaying. They showed it again tonight.”

Game 4 goes tomorrow in Kanata. A Penguins loss and the defending champs will be in serious trouble. Find a way to win, however, and they’d regain home-ice advantage in what would become a best-of-three series.

“We just have to stay with it,” said Sullivan. “This is the nature of, when you’re playing a seven-game series, you have to have the ability to respond. There’s no doubt in my mind this group of players will.”

Related: Fleury or Murray for Game 4? Sullivan won’t say

The Buzzer: Bergeron’s at it again, Nash’s resurgence continues

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Players of the Night:

Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins: Bergeron did it again. The perennial Selke contender showed off his scoring prowess (again), scoring his second hat trick in 12 days. He now has nine goals and five assists in his past eight games. The Bruins have run up a 15-game point streak (11-0-4).

Rick Nash, New York Rangers: Nash scored twice for the second consecutive game in a 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres. Nash now has four goals in this past two games after putting up a goose egg in his previous 12.

Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche: MacKinnon’s successes this season have been well documented, and he kept that narrative going with two more goals — his 21st and 22nd — and an assist in the Avs 5-3 win over the San Jose Sharks.

Highlights of the Night:

Bergeron’s hat trick came after some trickery by Brad Marchand:

A Double Dustin:

Robin Lehner made this dandy of a save. Unfortunately, he allowed a goal moments later. Still, this save.

Bonehead play of the Night:

Dustin Brown strikes again. This time in the wrong category. Someone’s getting suspended.

Factoids of the Night:

MISC:

Scores:

Devils 4, Capitals 3 (OT)

Bruins 5, Islanders 2

Blue Jackets 2, Stars 1 (SO)

Rangers 4, Sabres 3

Blues 4, Senators 1

Golden Knights 4, Lightning 1

Flyers 3, Maple Leafs 2 (OT)

Predators 3, Coyotes 2 (SO)

Avalanche 5, Sharks 3

Penguins 3, Kings 1


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Hornqvist, DeSmith help lift the Penguins past the Kings 3-1

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The Pittsburgh Penguins annual jaunt up the west coast didn’t start according to plan on Wednesday.

The Pens dropped a 5-3 decision to the Anaheim Ducks and had to quickly rest and recover for a date with the Los Angeles Kings 24 hours later.

The odds weren’t favoring them, but the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions pulled one out of their hats in a 3-1 win in the City of Angels on Thursday, handing the Kings their fifth straight loss.

The Penguins handed Casey DeSmith his first NHL start and the New Hampshire native stepped up in the absence of Matt Murray, who missed his first game after the passing of his father on Tuesday.

DeSmith filled in admirably making 28 saves in his first NHL win, and he got some timely goal support, including two markers from Patric Hornqvist.

Hornqvist alleviated some of the first-start jitters on DeSmith as he opened the scoring 43 seconds into the first period.

The lead lasted until the 14:10 mark of the second period when Adrian Kempe made a slick deke on DeSmith to tie the game 1-1.

Evgeni Malkin broke the deadlock with another early period goal for the Penguins.

Pittsburgh went on the offensive off the opening faceoff, and after a point shot was blocked in front, Malkin grabbed the rebound in the slot and fired his 21st home on a wrist shot past Jonathan Quick.

Malkin finished the game with a goal and an assist.

Hornqvist added some insurance just after the midway point of the third, making it 3-1 on the power play with his second of the night.

Meanwhile, Dustin Brown was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct after boarding Justin Schultz in the third period.

Schultz had to leave the game and did not return.

Schultz said he was fine after the game and that he did not suffer a concussion on the play.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck-

Rick Nash scores twice as Rangers edge Sabres 4-3

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Prior to Tuesday’s win, New York Rangers forward Rick Nash had gone 12 games without a goal.

They had lost three straight and the man they needed to start scoring again simply couldn’t.

But on Tuesday in a 5-1 win against the Philadelphia Flyers, Nash found his stride.

And on Thursday night he notched two more in a 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres on NBCSN.

Nash opened the scoring for the Rangers 1:24 into the game, taking advantage of a defensive mishap by Jake McCabe, who couldn’t handle a puck as the last man back and allowed Nash in on a breakaway.

The Sabres would respond by periods’ end, starting their first of three comebacks on the night.

Kyle Okposo brought the game to level terms with 1:19 remaining in the first period, completing a tic-tac-toe play on the power play.

The Sabres came into the game with the 31st ranking on the man-advantage, but managed to score twice with it in Thursday’s game.

The Rangers regained the lead through J.T. Miller in the second period.

New York just went through a power play without registering a shot on goal, but Miller was able to grab the puck at the right circle moments after the Sabres’ penalty had expired and rifled a wrist shot bar down behind Lehner at 8:26.

The Sabres engineered their second comeback of the game, tying it 2-2 the game later in the period from an unlikely source.

Justin Falk had gone 101 games without putting a puck in the back of the net. Not since March 6, 2015 had Falk seen his name in that category on the scoresheet.

But he shed that monkey off his back on a point shot low along the ice that beat Lundqvist through the five-hole with 2:50 remaining in the frame.

Nash scored his second at the 6:49 mark of the third period, following by Buffalo’s third successful comeback attempt at 14:59 when Rasmus Ristolainen’s shot found its way through a crowd and behind Lundqvist for a 3-3 tie.

Pavel Buchnevich scored the winner 1:03 later, finishing off a nice feed from Mika Zibanejad for his 12th and the Rangers second straight win.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

WATCH LIVE: Pittsburgh Penguins vs Los Angeles Kings

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PROJECTED LINES

Pittsburgh Penguins

Dominik SimonSidney Crosby — Daniel Sprong

Carl HagelinEvgeni MalkinPatric Hornqvist

Conor ShearyJake GuentzelPhil Kessel

Tom KuhnhacklRiley SheahanRyan Reaves

Brian DumoulinKris Letang

Olli MaattaJustin Schultz

Matt HunwickJamie Oleksiak

Starting goalie: Tristan Jarry

[NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Sabres vs. Rangers; Penguins vs. Kings]

Los Angeles Kings

Adrian KempeAnze KopitarDustin Brown

Tanner PearsonTrevor LewisTyler Toffoli

Alex IafalloNick ShoreMarian Gaborik

Kyle Clifford — Michael Amadio — Jonny Brodzinski

Derek ForbortDrew Doughty

Jake MuzzinAlec Martinez

Kevin Gravel — Christian Folin

Starting goalie: Jonathan Quick