Jason Brough

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Three Capitals stats that explain their predicament

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The Washington Capitals are on the brink of another painful playoff exit. Here are three stats that help explain why:

.867Braden Holtby‘s save percentage in four games against the Penguins. No, it doesn’t help when his own teammates score on him, but Holtby has been badly outplayed by Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury, who owns a .937 save percentage in the series. Holtby also had his struggles in the first round against Toronto, but he bounced back with two solid starts to finish off the Leafs. If the Caps are going to make a comeback against Pittsburgh, he’ll need to do the same.

15 — Times shorthanded in the series. The Penguins have only scored twice on the power play, but one of them was Justin Schultz‘s game-winner on Wednesday. Running around and taking too many penalties also gets a team out of its rhythm, as evidenced by last night’s first period when the Caps took two minors and looked totally out of sorts.

0 — Points for Andre Burakovsky against the Pens. Ditto for Tom Wilson. And Lars Eller has just one assist. Scoring depth was supposed to be Washington’s most improved area. Instead, it’s a major problem, just like it was last year. For all the heat Alex Ovechkin is bound to take if the Caps blow it again, a number of his teammates aren’t pulling their weight.

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

Crosby skates at Penguins practice facility

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Mike Sullivan wouldn’t provide much of an update, but the news that Sidney Crosby skated this morning can only be seen as promising for the Penguins and their fans.

“He’s in the process of rehabbing,” Sullivan said, per Bill West of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “We’ll just leave it at that.”

The Penguins have an off day today after last night’s big win over the Capitals. But Crosby, who’s been diagnosed with a concussion, skated in full gear at the team’s practice facility.

According to TSN’s Mark Masters, the Penguins put up black drapes to keep reporters from taking any video of Crosby’s skate.

Game 5 of the Caps-Pens series goes Saturday in Washington. It seems unlikely that Crosby would return then. But if the series goes to Game 6 (Monday) or 7 (Wednesday), there could be quite the decision to make.

The Pens lead the Caps, 3-1.

Brendan Smith, a pending UFA, showing well in playoffs

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Brendan Smith could really cash in this summer.

A pending unrestricted free agent, the 28-year-old defenseman has shown well since being traded from the Red Wings to the Rangers at the deadline.

Smith is plus-8 in nine playoff games. Among Rangers d-men, only Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi have been on the ice more.

“I love his game. He’s so hard to play against,” said teammate Tanner Glass, per the Daily News. “I remember the same thing when we was playing in Detroit. He was always one of those guys that when you go to the net you’ve got to be aware of when he’s out there.”

It is not a bumper crop of free-agent defensemen this summer. Kevin Shattenkirk will be the top dog, while the second tier includes under-30s like Smith, Karl Alzner and Michael Stone.

Smith told the Daily News he could see himself signing in New York.

But the Rangers may not have the flexibility to keep him — especially if they pursue Shattenkirk, as many expect them to do.

Rangers ‘just wanted it more than us,’ says Sens coach

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The Ottawa Senators didn’t lose their structure against the New York Rangers.

They lost their desperation to win.

That’s how Ottawa coach Guy Boucher saw last night’s 4-1 loss at MSG. The Rangers dominated from the very beginning. It was 2-0 after 20 minutes, and the Sens could not battle back this time.

“There was nothing different that they did,” said Boucher. “They just wanted it more than us. They were first on pucks and they won their battles. … It doesn’t matter what systems you use, if we’re playing like that, there’s no way we can win any game, not even a regular-season game. That was below every single standard.”

The Rangers were naturally desperate, trailing the series 2-0 heading into the game. Boucher said yesterday morning that the Sens needed to muster their own sense of desperation, even if it’s “something you have to create superficially.”

But they couldn’t muster much, and now the Rangers are back in the series.

Game 4 goes tomorrow in New York.

“We have to have the urgency, the battle level that we normally have,” said Boucher. “And we’ve gotta match theirs. Because we know that they’ll be home and they’ll most probably display the exact same urgency as they did last game.”

A balanced attack has Preds one win from first conference final

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Three years ago, general manager David Poile let the only coach the Predators had ever known in Barry Trotz leave and hired Peter Laviolette to inject more offense into the Nashville lineup.

The payoff is coming with the NHL’s best start this postseason.

The Predators are 7-1 and the only undefeated team on home ice. They have gotten goals from a league-best 13 players, and they’re spreading the wealth around with seven players scoring game-winning goals.

The Predators are led by their top line with Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson combining for 21 points. The Nashville defensive corps also has a league-high eight goals to go with 14 assists. Ryan Ellis leads all defensemen with nine points and has the league’s longest point streak since 1998 at seven games.

Read more: Preds getting offense from the defense

Nashville stands just a win away from the first conference final in franchise history with a 3-1 series lead over St. Louis in their Western Conference semifinal after a 2-1 victory Tuesday night.

“It’s in our own hands, for sure,” goaltender Pekka Rinne said.

Credit Laviolette’s aggressive offensive scheme that lets everyone shoot at the net. The coach also has a knack for plugging players in and out of the lineup at the right time.

“It’s a five-man game in all zones, and conversely the offense won’t work 3-on-5,” Laviolette said of including defensemen in the attack. “If it’s just our three and five of their guys defending, we’re not going to create. There’s a fine line with that, but our guys do a pretty good job defending and taking care of that, and offensively five guys making sure we attack.”

During the regular season, the Predators tied for the league lead with 12 players scoring at least 10 goals. They also tied San Jose for the most points (181) scored by defensemen, led by Roman Josi with 49.

Laviolette has taken advantage of Nashville’s fast-skating blue liners, giving them the freedom to attack the net with the flow of the puck. They love to take advantage.

“Everyone right now is really putting an emphasis on getting up ice and getting those opportunities,” defenseman Mattias Ekholm said. “Both Ryan, P.K. (Subban), Yannik (Weber) and Matt (Irwin) are doing a great job. As a D-corps, we’re just trying to play our game and do it to our strength.”

The final piece came last June when Poile stunned the NHL by swapping captain and star defenseman Shea Weber to Montreal for Subban as part of an effort to add even more offense to the lineup. The former Norris Trophy winner had 40 points in 66 games during his first regular season in Nashville, and Subban has six points in eight games in these playoffs.

Subban said the key to the defensemen scoring so well is the ability to make the smart read in a second.

“Ultimately when you come back to the bench, whether you make a great play or you make a mistake, you got Lavi and you got (Hall of Fame defenseman) Phil Housley … who are correcting us,” Subban said of the Predators assistant coach who is the NHL’s fourth-ranked scoring defenseman. “I feel very confident coming back to the bench to know that if we’re not sure about something or make a mistake that it can be corrected.”

Then there’s Laviolette’s knack for putting in a player at just the right time.

Harry Zolerniczyk had only four points in 24 games during the regular season. Laviolette already has played him in six games in the first postseason of the 29-year-old left winger’s career. Zolnierczyk came through with his first playoff goal in a Game 2 victory over Chicago. He also has an assist and provided a key screen on Josi’s final goal in a 3-1 win in Game 3 against St. Louis.

Laviolette inserted veteran Vern Fiddler into the lineup for the first game against St. Louis, and Fiddler responded with the winning goal. Cody McLeod, who also sat out against Chicago, scored the winner Sunday.

Subban credits a group of players who have bought into what Laviolette wants.

“We don’t care who’s First Star at the end of the night,” Subban said. “Whoever gets the recognition, it’s just about how we’re playing, and everybody pulling in the right direction and we have that.”