With no Kris Letang for the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 4, all signs pointed to the Washington Capitals evening up the series at two games. Instead, the Caps were handed a 3-2 overtime loss and now head back to Washington on the verge of elimination.
It was a golden opportunity missed by the Caps, even if the players don't want to admit it.
"They have lots of other guys that are good too," Nicklas Backstrom said. "I feel like they’re a good team."
"Whenever you lose a game, it’s obviously an opportunity missed but it had nothing to do with them missing some of their players," Jay Beagle said. "It was just a matter of we needed to win the game and get the split here and head back to our barn."
Whether the Caps want to acknowledge it or not, the impact of a player like Letang is undeniable.
Letang, Pittsburgh's top defenseman, was suspended for Game 4 due to a high hit he delivered to Marcus Johansson in Game 3. While everyone knows about the Penguins' star forwards like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Letang remains one of the team's most important players. Through the first three games of the series, he has averaged over 32 minutes per game. That means Pittsburgh, already playing without Olli Maatta who has been out since taking a high hit from Brooks Orpik in Game 2, had to somehow replace a defenseman who has incredibly been averaging over half a game in ice time.
Losing a player like that is felt up and down the lineup.
"The six defenseman had to play a few more minutes than we're used to," Ben Lovejoy said.
"Obviously without Tanger on the back end, the way the 'D' played tonight to give us a chance, that was huge," Sidney Crosby said. "A lot of guys thrown into different positions and they came up big for us."
The players may not have wanted to admit it, but Barry Trotz knows his team missed an opportunity on Wednesday.
"We didn’t take advantage of it," Trotz said. "...When Kris got the suspension we knew they were going to rally. They didn’t play their best game [in Game 3] and everybody had to step up on their side and I thought they did."
Now facing elimination, the Caps will somehow have to find a way to win their next three games against a Pittsburgh team that will be getting its best defenseman back for Game 5.
"We're excited to have Kris back," Lovejoy said. "He should be well rested after tonight. We're expecting him to play 44 to 48 minutes in Washington."
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