The Pittsburgh Penguins found a way to survive without injured star Sidney Crosby.
Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 36 shots and rookie Jake Guentzel took advantage of a fortunate bounce for his playoff-leading eighth goal and the defending Stanley Cup champions held off the Washington Capitals 3-2 on Wednesday night in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Justin Schultz scored in a second straight game and Patric Hornqvist picked up his third of the postseason as Pittsburgh took a 3-1 lead in the series.
The Penguins played without Crosby, who is out indefinitely with a concussion suffered in Game 3.
Pittsburgh has a chance to eliminate the Capitals in Game 5 on Saturday in Washington.
Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nate Schmidt scored for the Capitals. Braden Holtby finished with 15 saves, but Washington failed to even the series despite controlling play for long stretches.
Matt Niskanen’s shot to Crosby’s jaw early in Game 3 left Crosby concussed and his immediate future uncertain. It also forced his team to figure out a way to survive without one of the game’s most brilliant catalysts while simultaneously trying to reign in their anger at what they considered a dirty hit.
Fleury stressed the Penguins didn’t need to focus on retribution, though Washington prepared for it.
Capitals center Jay Beagle believed things could get “nasty” as the series moved forward.
Pittsburgh’s Phil Kessel countered that Beagle’s assertion that Niskanen’s shot was “clean” made Beagle “an idiot.” Beagle suggested the two work out their differences over video games.
It didn’t happen. At least not on Wednesday.
Save for a scrap in the second period that amounted to little more than an extended wrestling match between Chris Kunitz and Tom Wilson — who made a run at Kunitz but missed — things stayed relatively tame. It played out similar to Pittsburgh’s victories in Washington to open the series. The Capitals would get extended pressure on Fleury only to be stopped while the Penguins expertly counterattacked.
An emotional and energetic start and a dash of luck allowed Pittsburgh to build a 2-0 lead. Hornqvist took a feed from Olli Maatta and beat a pair of Washington defenders to break in on Holtby. A flick of Hornqvist’s wrists and the puck sailed over Holtby’s glove and under the crossbar 4:39 into the first period to put the home team ahead for the first time in the series.
The Penguins’ advantage doubled 3:51 into the second when a centering pass by Guentzel smacked off the skate of Washington defenseman Dmitry Orlov and by a surprised Holtby.
Washington tied it within a 72-second span later in the second. Justin Williams escaped a pair of Penguins on the boards and fed Kuznetsov at the top of the circle for a wrist shot that zipped by Fleury. Just over a minute later, T.J. Oshie’s shot caromed off the end boards and straight to Schmidt, who beat Fleury for the first playoff goal of his career.
Pittsburgh’s power play, which struggled early in the series even with Crosby in the lineup, came through when a blast from Schultz 11:24 into the second put the Penguins back in front.
Fleury did the rest. Months after losing his starting job to Matt Murray, Fleury is the main reason the Penguins are a game away from the Eastern Conference final.
He withstood surge after surge and when his teammates finally found their legs late in the third period, Washington found itself on the brink of having another promising season end with a loss to their longtime rivals.