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NHL Playoffs: Crosby, Penguins hold off Senators to even series

NHL Playoffs: Crosby, Penguins hold off Senators to even series

BOX SCORE

OTTAWA, Ontario -- Matt Murray was back -- and so was Sidney Crosby.

Crosby had a goal and an assist, Murray made 22 saves in his first start of the playoffs and the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Ottawa Senators 3-2 on Friday night to even the Eastern Conference finals at 2-2.

Crosby had only one point as the defending champion Penguins dropped two of the first three, leading to questions about his health following a jarring concussion in the second round.

"I think he leads by example and I thought he had one of his best games tonight," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "But it doesn't just stop with Sid, it goes down the bench."

Murray started for the first time in more than six weeks.

"All I can really do is kind of jump in and try not to think about it," Murray said. "Just try and play with the flow of the game and kind of let yourself get lost in the game a little bit. I thought I did a pretty good job of that tonight. There's a lot of ways I could have been a lot better I thought, but all together felt good about the game."

Sullivan turned to Murray after Marc-Andre Fleury was chased in the first period Wednesday night in the Penguins' 5-1 loss in Game 3.

"I thought Matt was solid," Sullivan said. "He made some timely saves for us when we needed it. He has a calm demeanor about him. I thought he was tracking the puck extremely well. And certainly, he made a couple of key saves for us at key times."

Brian Dumoulin and Olli Maatta added goals to help Pittsburgh take a 3-0 lead midway through the second period. Clarke MacArthur and Tom Pyatt scored for Ottawa.

"They were the better team tonight for two periods and they deserved the game," Senators coach Guy Boucher said.

Game 5 is Sunday in Pittsburgh.

Murray made a strong stop on Mike Hoffman less than two minutes into the game and denied Viktor Stalberg on a pair of follow-up opportunities. The goalie made maybe his best stop on Derick Brassard's backhander, kicking the shot away with his right pad.

"He made a really big save early on with his leg save when the guy kind of went around him after a rebound and I think right after that our team went into the offensive side and really played at the puck and gave us that momentum," teammate Chris Kunitz said. "I think we did an all-around good job tonight."

Fleury started the first 15 games for Pittsburgh with Murray mostly sidelined by injury.

"I don't want to make this about myself," Fleury said after the game. "We scored some goals. That was nice. We won. It's good."

Pittsburgh opened the scoring with 46 seconds left in the first period when Maatta went down the left side and fired a short-side shot past on goalie Craig Anderson. Crosby set up the play.

Pittsburgh's already battered defense took another blow late in the first when Bobby Ryan hit Chad Ruhwedel. Ian Cole immediately throttled Ryan, as Ruhwedel was down on the ice. Ryan somehow escaped a charging penalty on the play, and Cole drew the only call for roughing.

The Pens are already without Kris Letang, who is done for the playoffs, and Justin Schultz, who missed the last two games with an upper-body injury.

Crosby's brilliance showed up again midway through the second on a power play after Jean-Gabriel Pageau ripped off the Pittsburgh star's helmet in a scrum around the net.

Crosby stationed himself right on the doorstep to Anderson's left, his right leg hugging the post for support. That didn't allow him to score on the initial setup from Jake Guentzel, but helped him to bang in the follow-up for the 2-0 lead. Guentzel had two assists.

Dumoulin made it 3-0 less than four minutes later with a shot from the left point that caromed in off Ottawa defenseman Dion Phaneuf's skate.

Ottawa had mostly neutralized the high-powered Penguins in the first three games, holding them to just three goals -- a mark they equaled in less than 32 minutes of Game 4. Pittsburgh seemed to find more speed, got more shots in tight and capitalized on opportunities around the net.

Following that initial flurry in the first, the Senators had little going right until the last two minutes of the second when Ryan found MacArthur with a crafty backdoor pass for Ottawa's first goal.

The Senators pulled within one with five minutes left when Pyatt got a skate on Erik Karlsson's already-deflected point shot.

"It's just a little frustrating right now," Karlsson said. "They're doing a good job in controlling our breakouts and when we get it we don't really get the opportunities that we want."

Best of NHL: Senators snap 5-game skid in return home

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USA Today Images

Best of NHL: Senators snap 5-game skid in return home

OTTAWA, Ontario -- Craig Anderson made 27 saves to stop his seven-game losing streak and the Ottawa Senators snapped their five-game skid Wednesday night with a 3-2 win over the New York Rangers.

Bobby Ryan, Cody Ceci and Zack Smith scored for the Senators (10-13-7), who returned home from a seven-game road trip and improved to 2-10-2 in their past 14 overall. It was only their second victory in regulation since Nov. 11, which was the last time Anderson had won.

Michael Grabner and Pavel Buchnevich scored for the Rangers (16-12-3), who dropped to 4-7-0 on the road. Henrik Lundqvist had 27 saves, becoming the 15th goalie in NHL history to reach 20,000 for his career.

Ottawa, which eliminated the Rangers in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs last season, was coming off a 3-2 loss at last-place Buffalo on Tuesday night (see full recap).

Pitlick, Benn lift Stars over Islanders
NEW YORK -- Tyler Pitlick scored twice and Jamie Benn had a goal and two assists to lead the Dallas Stars to a 5-2 victory over the New York Islanders on Wednesday night.

Alexander Radulov and Remi Elie also scored for the Stars, who won their second straight after a three-game skid. Kari Lehtonen stopped 32 shots for his 300th career victory, and John Klingberg had two assists.

Anders Lee scored twice for the Islanders, who have lost five of seven (2-4-1), and John Tavares and Josh Bailey each had two assists. Jaroslav Halak, starting for the seventh time in nine games, was pulled near the midpoint of the second period after giving up four goals on 20 shots. Thomas Greiss came on and stopped six of the seven shots he faced (see full recap).

Sean Couturier proving he belongs in Selke Trophy conversation

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AP Images

Sean Couturier proving he belongs in Selke Trophy conversation

VOORHEES, N.J. — By definition, the Frank J. Selke Memorial Trophy is awarded to the NHL forward who demonstrates the most skill in the defensive component of the game.

Since the day Sean Couturier arrived in the league as an 18-year-old rookie straight out of the June draft in 2011, the defensive element has always been part of his game. He was tasked with shutting down one of the league’s premier centers in Evgeni Malkin as a teenager and a fourth-line center. His commitment to defense was the primary reason the Flyers drafted Couturier eighth overall in 2011.

Of all the NHL’s major postseason awards presented in Las Vegas next summer, the Selke may be the one piece of hardware the Flyers have the greatest chance at claiming, as Couturier has refined his all-around game. The paradox of the award is how winners typically need respectable offensive numbers to receive serious consideration for what’s regarded as a defensive accolade.

The last 21 winners have all scored at least 20 goals, while 11 of the last 12 winners have racked up 50 or more points. Couturier has never reached either scoring plateau, which probably explains why he’s never finished higher than eighth in the voting. He’s currently on pace this season for 41 goals and 82 points.

“It would be a nice recognition,” Couturier said Wednesday. “Obviously, just getting your name thrown out there with those guys that are there every year, it’s kind of nice. It gives you that extra boost to kind of push yourself and try to be as good as you can.” 

This season, Couturier has proven he belongs in that elite conversation. Tuesday’s game against the Maple Leafs was a vintage Selke effort: winning faceoffs, including draws that led to goals, staying committed defensively while playing 1:35 of the final 2:12, preserving a one-goal lead.

Over his last 50 games dating back to last season, Couturier also owns an impressive plus-32 rating.

“I know some people don’t like the plus/minus. Five-on-five, if you’re in the plus, it's usually a good thing and you’re helping your team win," Couturier said. "My mentality is still the same: being solid, taking care of details and like I said, if you take care of details defensively, the offense will come and that’s always the thought process I’ve had.”

Another Selke measurable is faceoffs — an area in which Couturier has improved greatly over the past two years from a 48 percent success rate to winning 55 percent from the beginning of last season.

“It’s the one area of his game that he’s taken a lot of pride in,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “I think if you look at the numbers in both faceoff dots, he’s done a real good job, as well as the neutral zone."

For an award voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association, there’s almost no way to accurately assess the defensive play of 300-plus forwards without extensive video review, as most writers are solely covering the team in their city. So faceoffs, plus/minus, consistency on the penalty kill coupled with shorthanded goals can be areas that separate Selke candidates.

Currently, Boston’s Patrice Bergeron is the Selke gold standard as a four-time winner, and he’s finished first or second in voting in each of the past six seasons. Fair or not, Bergeron’s reputation alone will likely land him in the top three once again barring injury.

“When you look at (Anze) Kopitar, Bergeron and (Jonathan) Toews, I think Coots is up there with those guys,” Jakub Voracek said. “Without a doubt [Couturier is a Selke candidate]. He’s got 15 goals in 30 games. His stick is very good and he’s always one step ahead defensively. He doesn’t over-backcheck. He just knows what kind of responsibility that he has. You can see it on the PK, it’s really hard to get a puck through him. Those kind of players are very hard to find.”

Just ask the Flyers' organization. They haven’t had a Selke winner since Dave Poulin 30 years ago.