Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins were stymied by Igor Shesterkin during the regular season. They have now chased the the New York Rangers' Vezina Trophy finalist the last two games and are one win from advancing to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in four years.
They can do that Wednesday night in Game 5 at Madison Square Garden, where they earned a split of the first two games.
After scoring just four goals against Shesterkin in four regular-season games, the Penguins have torched him for 10 goals in three periods over the last two games. He left after giving up four goals in the first period of Game 3 and then again after allowing six in two periods of Game 4.
“He’s probably real frustrated. There’s probably four goals that were deflected (Monday night),” New York coach Gerard Gallant said after the 7-2 loss in Game 5 before declaring he intends to stick with Shesterkin for Game 5. “He’ll be back in there and he’ll be ready to win the next game Wednesday night. I’ve got all the confidence in the world in him. ... He’s the best goalie in the league.”
As surprising as Shesterkin's struggles have been, so has the solid play of Penguins goalie Louis Domingue. Pittsburgh's No. 3 goalie was thrust into the spotlight due to injuries to starter Tristan Jarry and backup Casey DeSmith, and has gone 3-1 with a 3.40 goals-against average and a .906 save-percentage.
The Penguins, making their 16th straight postseason appearnace, also have a lot of confidence after their latest win moved them to the verge of advancing for the first time since reaching the second round in 2018 following back-to-back Stanley Cup championships.
“We got to stay hungry and just stay in the moment,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “We have a veteran leadership, we have a great group in there that has been through a lot of playoff experiences and they understand how hard it is. The elimination game is always the most difficult.”
After totaling three goals and three assists the previous three postseasons, Crosby has two goals and seven assists in this series. He expects the Rangers to bring their best.
“We know we have a lot of work left,” he said. “They're a good hockey team. We've definitely got an opportunity but we know it's going to be a big challenge going to New York.”
CAPITALS at PANTHERS, series tied 2-2 (7:30 p.m. EDT, ESPN2)
The Presidents' Trophy-winning Panthers rallied in the third period of Game 4 to even the series and regain home-ice advantage. They were a league-best 34-7-0 at home during the season.
“I'm just happy we won the game and we can go back home in front of our home fans and compete again with the series tied,” Verhaege said. “It's a best-of-three now. We have home-ice advantage again, so that's the thing I think about most.”
A key stat to keep an eye on: of 277 previous times a best-of-seven series was tied after four games, the winner of Game 5 has advanced 219 times (79.1%).
The Capitals, the second wild card in the Eastern Conference, know they squandered a chance to take a commanding series lead. Instead, they're even in a series that has seen the teams alternate wins.
“It was in our hands,” said forward Evgeny Kuznetsov, who gave Washington a 2-1 lead midway through the third period. “There is no panic. Still have a pretty good chance.”
STARS at FLAMES, series tied 2-2 (9:30 p.m. EDT, ESPN)
The Pacific Division champion Flames bounced back from consecutive losses to even the series with a 4-1 win in Game 4.
Johnny Gaudreau got his first goal of the series on a penalty shot in the third period and Calgary never trailed. Game 5 is Wednesday at the Saddledome, where the Flames went 25-9-7 in the regular season.
“It’s nice to get that win, but I think the momentum is we’re going home and playing in front of our fans,” Gaudreau said. “Now it’s a three-game series.”
The Flames totaled just three goals while losing two of the first three games but exceeded that output with sustained offensive-zone pressure in Game 4.
“We had a lot of long shifts in their zone,” Calgary's Rasmus Andersson said. “We didn’t take too many penalties, so we get to play 5-on-5 and that’s where we’re a really good team.”
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