After downing a juggernaut Washington Capitals team in the second round, the Pittsburgh Penguins looked like a safe bet to return to the Stanley Cup finals. However, the 2017 NHL playoffs' dark horse in the Ottawa Senators are starting to emerge as a legitimate threat to win the Eastern Conference.
Ottawa totally changed the outlook of this series thanks to a 5-1 blowout win in Game 3, and it has used a conservative game plan to stifle Pittsburgh so far. The Penguins must respond quickly, as their depth is dwindling due to a rash of injuries.
Here is a look at the latest odds for Game 4, as well as its viewing schedule. Odds are according to OddsShark.com.
Pittsburgh at Ottawa Game 4 Schedule
When: Friday, May 19 at 8 p.m. ET
Television Info: NBCSN (Live Stream on NBC Sports Live)
Game 4 Odds
Game 4 Preview
Uncertainty is the perfect word to describe the current situation with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
For one, the lineup volatility is taking a toll on the team's depth. Patric Hornqvist, Bryan Rust and Justin Schultz each missed Game 3, while Sidney Crosby, Trevor Daley, Carl Hagelin and Conor Sheary have all missed games this postseason as a result of injury. On top of that, top defenseman Kris Letang missed most of this season and will not return in the playoffs.
Game 3's ugly blowout in Ottawa may have been a result of tired legs and mental fatigue with the lineup changes. However, head coach Mike Sullivan quelled any notion that injuries are to blame for the team's inconsistent play, per Gene Collier of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
"We've dealt with it all year long, so are we worried about it? No. We don't have a choice. That's just the reality of the circumstance. It's nothing that this team isn't accustomed to. We've been dealing with this all year long—I mean Kris Letang played 40 games for us this year. We've had to find a way to win without [Letang] for half the year, which is hard to do—he's an elite player."
No matter what the cause is, the Penguins must find a solution to fix their inconsistency. They registered 17 giveaways in Game 1 while Ottawa frustrated them with their clogging of the middle of the ice. In Game 2, Pittsburgh cut their turnovers in half as they possessed the puck and made smart passes. As a result, the Penguins held the Senators without a shot for nearly 19 minutes over the second and third periods in the 1-0 shutout.
Game 3 was an anomaly due to Ottawa's four first-period goals, but it was a reflection on the back-and-forth play of Marc-Andre Fleury this postseason. When he plays poorly, Pittsburgh typically falters.
According to SportsNet, Fleury boasts a 1.52 goals against average and a .956 save percentage while facing just under 36 shots a game in wins. In losses, those numbers drastically drop to a 4.39 GAA and a .864 save percentage against roughly 28 shots per night.
That can make goaltending a liability at times for Pittsburgh, which has Sullivan undecided between Fleury or regular season starter and last year's postseason hero Matt Murray for Game 4, per NHL.com's Tom Gulitti:
Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL
Sullivan said he hasn't thought yet about who his starting goalie will be for Game 4.2017-5-18 03:11:24
Whoever takes the net for Pittsburgh is still a strong option overall, but that man seemingly cannot allow more than two or three goals because of how the Senators are playing.
Ottawa is outmatched personnelwise for the second straight series, but it is perfect proof what success can arise from precisely executing a game plan. The team forms a defensive shell for most of the night, using opposition turnovers to create scoring chances off of the rush.
This is obviously affecting a Penguins team that loves to play a high-tempo, up-and-down pace. but their experience should give them a slight edge in this game, especially coming off of an embarrassing Game 3. Pittsburgh also has not lost two straight road postseason games since 2013.
Expect a motivated Pittsburgh squad to take the ice flying on Friday, because the Penguins could well be out of this series if they start flat once again.
Statistics are courtesy of NHL.com unless otherwise noted.