Mike Sullivan isn’t showing all of his cards just yet ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ pivotal Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final against the host Ottawa Senators on Friday at the Canadian Tire Centre. The Stanley Cup-winning coach told reporters he’d reveal what he hopes to be his ace in the hole on Friday morning with the disclosure of whether franchise goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury or rookie Matt Murray will get the start in net.
Fleury had been nothing short of brilliant while stepping in for an injured Murray (lower body), lifting the Penguins past Columbus and Washington and stopping 56 of 58 shots versus Ottawa in the first two games before getting shredded for four goals on nine shots in the first period of a 5-1 loss on Wednesday. The roles are somewhat reversed from last season when the 22-year-old Murray took over for a concussed Fleury and guided Pittsburgh to its fourth Stanley Cup title in franchise history. While both goaltenders said they were unaware of who will start in Game 4, Senators coach Guy Boucher offered his own take on the Penguins’ netminding situation. “I don’t care,” Boucher said, according to the Ottawa Sun. “Whether it’s (Fleury) or another goalie, it doesn’t matter.”
TV: 8 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network, CBC, TVAS
ABOUT THE PENGUINS: Although Pittsburgh’s high-octane offense has been reduced to one goal per game in this series, forward Evgeni Malkin told reporters on Thursday that he doesn’t feel any additional pressure to come through in Game 4. “I think me and (Sidney Crosby) always feel pressure every game. It doesn’t matter if you play against Ottawa or Washington,” the 30-year-old Russian told reporters. “We like that. It’s our hockey life. ... It’s the toughest game (Friday), I think, for us.” The trio of Malkin, Crosby and Phil Kessel has combined for five points (three goals, two assists) in this series for Pittsburgh, which scored an NHL-best 3.39 goals per contest in the regular season before marginally upping the ante over the first two rounds of the playoffs (3.42).
ABOUT THE SENATORS: Ottawa’s 1-3-1 system is largely responsible for flustering Pittsburgh, although defenseman Chris Wideman was quick to point out that it’s a group effort as opposed to individual play. “I think it’s been a full team buy-in, full team effort by whoever’s on the ice,” the 27-year-old Wideman told reporters Thursday. “All five guys are conscientious of the time and the situation, where the puck is on the ice, and it’s not a matter of who’s scoring goals for us or who’s making the plays.” The defense-first mentality has been music to the ears of veteran goaltender Craig Anderson, who has turned aside 117 of 122 shots in his last four games and resides one playoff win shy of tying Patrick Lalime (21) for the most in franchise history.
1. Ottawa captain D Erik Karlsson set up his 12th goal of the playoffs on Wednesday, moving three assists shy of the franchise record for a playoff year (Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza, 2007).
2. Pittsburgh LW Jake Guentzel (team-best nine goals) has been on the ice for the most 5-on-5 goals tallies in the playoffs (17).
3. Senators F Bobby Ryan has scored one goal and set up four others in the past four games and leads all of his team’s forwards with 13 points (five goals, eight assists).
PREDICTION: Penguins 3, Senators 2