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4 ways the Penguins can sneak out a win in Game 4

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After losing Kris Letang to a suspension, and holding on to a bad finish in Game 3, we'll key in on 4 ways that the Penguins can win Game 4 against the Washington Capitals

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Without Kris Letang for Game 4, a sizeable portion of the hockey world is already writing the game off for about as sure-fire a win for the Washington Capitals as can be expected in the NHL playoffs.

This is a great opportunity for the Pittsburgh Penguins to go up in their best-of-7 series by a commanding 3-1 margin. Letang is arguably their most indispensable player, but overcoming adversity often reveals the mettle of a championship caliber team. It will be very interesting (and exciting, really) to see if the Pens have it in them to beat a great opponent without their best defenseman.

Almost shades of 2008 - where the Pens had to struggle their way to a triple OT win with Sergei Gonchar sidelined for most of it. Here's 4 keys for Game 4

1. Stabilize at the start

Arguably the most important key, since the game will be built off the beginning. The Pens had a very poor start in the opening minutes of Game 3, they were out-shot and pressured by the Caps. As bad as it was, that would be the best Pittsburgh looked all night, scoring 2 goals in a one-minute stretch and taking a lead before holding on for dear life in the 3rd period where the Caps out-shot the Pens 21-9.

That's what people remember, and Pittsburgh will have to show themselves and their opponents that isn't going to happen again. Whether it's using the energy of the home crowd, the speed advantage that the Pittsburgh forwards enjoy, an early power play (more on this later), the Pens have to do something to get out to a positive start to steady a rough Game 3 and give themselves the belief that they can accomplish the task at hand.

2. Keep it simple

The Pens first 2 goals last game were started by long passes by Letang, from deep in his own zone, under the pressure of the Caps aggressive 2-man forecheck. That forecheck has been very effective and spells pressure and trouble for the Pittsburgh defensemen.

However, look at the roster that will play tonight. Trevor Daley and Brian Dumoulin will get big-boy minutes, and both have been studs. They can defend, they can move their feet and skate pucks to safety (not likely to be an option too often under a vicious Caps forecheck) or they can use their vision and hands to make passes. Derrick Pouliot and Justin Schultz are playoff untested and prone to mental and physical mistakes, but both are gifted with the puck. Ian Cole and Ben Lovejoy don't always make the right play, but they're capable and experienced enough to know what's coming and what they should do.

The Pens don't need anyone to be Kris Letang and make a magnificent play with his legs to skate pucks and advance the breakout. They just need their defensemen to consistently make smart reads and make accurate, timely passes and stay in position defensively for support of their partners as an extra option. That's not a lot to ask (though it is a lot easier to type out safely on a keyboard and not with opponents bearing down on me).

3. Get something from the power play

The Pens power play is 0 for 11 this series, which isn't going to cut it tonight. In some ways, Letang's absence might be a benefit - the top PP group can't look any worse and this will force a shuffling of the deck a little, with the Pens probably using either Schultz or Pouliot in Letang's role.

The Penguins haven't had much problem scoring on Braden Holtby at evens (8 goals in 9.5 periods) so far this series, but the skill group has to change the game. As mentioned in point 1 above, this could influence the start too. Of the 11 PP's Pittsburgh has received this series 10 have come in the first 2 periods. It's no secret that late in playoff games refs tend to generally let more slide as to not want to influence the result of a close game The Pens will probably get power play opportunities early in the game, and that will be crucial to get on the board.

4. Stars gotta shine

Evgeni Malkin has made his presence known at times this series, but also drew low TOI down the stretch in Game 3. He needs to be a bigger factor and be given the chance to be a bigger factor.

Sidney Crosby is playing a lot but doesn't have a point in the series. Crosby is usually at his best on the big stage and don't think he doesn't know that Alex Ovechkin just dominated the 3rd period of last game. Crosby can seemingly will himself into a huge performance and this game, without Letang, sure would be a storybook type of night for Sid if he has a multi-point game and can lead the team to victory.

***

In many ways, tonight seems like playing with house money. If the Pens lose, that sucks, but the series is 2-2 and now a best-of-3 against the Presidents Trophy winner, hardly a tough spot to be in. True, Pittsburgh would concede home-ice, but Pittsburgh is 3-1-1 this season in DC, so it's not as if they are incapable of winning on the road in this situation. Pens lose, and the series is back to square 1.

But, if the Pens find a way to pull the rabbit out of their hat, everything shifts. It's 3-1 Pittsburgh with Letang coming back for Game 5 and the Caps on the brink of another season collapse.

As I said during last series, Game 4s are often my favorite game of a playoff series because they define just what direction the series will go. Without Letang, the Pens have an uphill battle but also the opportunity to overcome adversity and make a fantastic statement.