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Monday, September 16, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  NHL

Penguins turn to defense, even NHL playoff series with Capitals

Pittsburgh Penguins’ Jake Guentzel (59) celebrates his second goal of the game, an empty-net goal, with Sidney Crosby (87) during the third period of Game 4 of an NHL second-round hockey playoff series against the Washington Capitals in Pittsburgh, Thursday, May 3, 2018. The Penguins won 3-1. (Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press)
Pittsburgh Penguins’ Jake Guentzel (59) celebrates his second goal of the game, an empty-net goal, with Sidney Crosby (87) during the third period of Game 4 of an NHL second-round hockey playoff series against the Washington Capitals in Pittsburgh, Thursday, May 3, 2018. The Penguins won 3-1. (Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press)
By Will Graves Associated Press

PITTSBURGH – Mike Sullivan knows his team is “wired” for offense, as tends to happen when you have Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and – increasingly – Jake Guentzel on your roster.

Yet the Pittsburgh Penguins have proven during their two-year run atop the NHL they know what they’re doing at the other end of the ice, too, playing with a discipline that’s more grit than glamour.

Their hopes for a historic three-peat remain alive because of it.

Guentzel scored twice and the Penguins held Washington star Alex Ovechkin without a shot on goal for just the third time in 107 career playoff games to grind out a 3-1 victory in Game 4 on Thursday night to even their typically taut Eastern Conference semifinal.

Pittsburgh held Washington to three shots total in the third period.

“It’s like we played Game 7 tonight,” said Malkin, who scored from his belly late in the second period to put Pittsburgh in front to stay. “Unbelievable.”

Well. Not exactly.

This is what tends to happen when the two longtime rivals meet in the postseason. Washington edges ahead and the Penguins respond immediately, one of the main reasons Pittsburgh is 9-1 all-time against the Capitals in the playoffs.

Plenty of work remains to be done for Washington to shrug off the weight of its ignominious history and for the Penguins to push their bid for a three-peat to the next round. Yet Pittsburgh laid down the blueprint over three periods that were decidedly tamer than the Game 3 chaos caused in large part by Washington forward Tom Wilson’s illegal high hit that left rookie Zach Aston-Reese with a broken jaw and led the league to suspend Wilson for three games.

While Sullivan downplayed the impact of Wilson’s absence, the pushing and shoving was largely kept to a minimum save for a scrap between Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang and Washington’s T.J. Oshie as Guentzel skated down the ice to flip in an empty-net goal with 58 seconds to go.

For the Penguins, the stakes – as they so often have during Sullivan’s tenure – far outweighed any search for retribution.

“We understood it’s a huge game for us,” Malkin said.

Instead the teams head to Washington for Game 5 on Saturday night all tied up, the ninth time in 11 postseason meetings the series will go at least six games. Same as it ever was.

Oshie scored Washington’s lone goal – a shot from the slot on the power play 12:55 into the second that knotted the score at 1 – and Braden Holtby finished with 21 saves but the Capitals couldn’t sneak anything else by Murray, who stopped 20 shots just two days after putting together an admittedly “shaky” performance in Game 3.

The guys in front of Murray made his job relatively easy. The Penguins blocked 13 shots and rarely let Washington put together any sustained pressure.

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