Capitals' Skill is No Match for Penguins' Will

Patric Hornqvist's play in Game 4 is the perfect personification of what the Penguins had clearly dedicated themselves to becoming in the wake of losing Sidney Crosby.

It’s hard to explain but easy to understand.

The Penguins are beating the Washington Capitals on intangibles.

The will to win, the understanding of how to win in the postseason and the ability to apply what’s required based on what the game demands from night to night have been as one-sided in this series as time spent in the offensive zone, shots attempted, shots on goal and most of the other tangible, statistical measurables.

It’s not that the Caps have lacked heart, character or urgency.

But the Pens have had more of all of the above.

They’ve also had the better goaltending.

“There’s no question we’d like to spend more time in the offensive zone, we’d like to have the puck a little bit more,” head coach Mike Sullivan allowed after the Penguins had been out-shot, 38-18, and out-attempted, 72-38, on Wednesday night in Game 4.

“But I give our players so much credit because of their commitment to defending and paying a price. This is a very good team offensively that we’re playing against. These guys are willing to block shots and defend hard and get into people’s bodies and that’s what I think jumps out at me with our group right now.”

That and the three-games-to-one series lead the Pens will bring with them to the Verizon Center for Game 5 on Saturday night.

Their 3-2 victory in Game 4 played out pretty much as the three previous games had.

The Pens have been out-shot in all four games.

And they’ve blocked more shots than they’ve managed to get to the Capitals’ net in three of the four.

But the Pens have also been as opportunistic in the offensive end as they have committed to paying that price the Caps have been extracting in the defensive zone.

In Game 4, Patric Hornqvist was both.

Hornqvist opened the scoring with a breakaway goal and then blocked a shot a few minutes later that temporarily knocked him out of the game and threatened his ability to finish it.

“I’m fine, I’m standing here,” was all he was willing to say about his damaged state afterward.

There couldn’t have been a better personification of what the Penguins had clearly dedicated themselves to becoming in the wake of losing Sidney Crosby in a postseason they had opened knowing they’d be without Kris Letang.

“That was all will,” Hornqvist assessed of Game 4. “There was not much skill out there.”

Sullivan wasn’t about to argue the point.

The inclination to do so seemingly never even occurred to him.

Rather than bemoan the aesthetics, Sullivan preferred to celebrate the Penguins’ “willingness and their commitment just to compete and defend and do what it takes.”

Minus a couple of game-changers, the Penguins followed Hornqvist on the way to changing the game.

“He has an insatiable appetite to win and we love his fire,” Sullivan gushed. “I think it’s contagious on the bench. He’s a passionate guy, he wears his emotions right on his chest, and I really think it helps our team.”

It’s that –– along with Marc-Andre Fleury –– for which the Caps just haven’t had an answer.

Categories: Mike Prisuta’s Sports Section