PITTSBURGH (AP) — The situation looked dire.
On the road.
Down a game.
Starting a goalie that hadn’t been on the ice for an opening faceoff in nearly six weeks.
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Yet the Pittsburgh Penguins responded the way they’ve always responded since Mike Sullivan took over as head coach nearly 18 months ago: like champions.
Their 3-2 victory over Ottawa in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals on Friday night provided yet another reminder of both Sullivan’s expert button-pushing and his team’s ability to brush off listless performances and react by playing with the kind of efficient brilliance that is difficult to match let alone beat.
Instead of flying home on the brink of elimination, the Penguins appear to have their Stanley Cup-winning mojo back heading into Sunday’s Game 5.
Same as it ever was under Sullivan, who is 12-2 following a playoff loss with the Penguins.
“These guys have been here before,” Sullivan said Saturday morning. “They understand it. They understand what’s at stake.”
It certainly looked like it on Friday night during three periods that looked like a carbon copy of how Pittsburgh sprinted to the franchise’s fourth championship last spring.
Sidney Crosby getting to the front of the net for an important goal . Goaltender Matt Murray turning aside 24 shots in his first start since April 6. The Penguins scoring three crowd-draining goals then holding on late.
“A good chunk of us have played together for a while, been through different situations,” Crosby said. “I think everyone relies on each other. There’s a certain level of confidence that in different situations the group will respond.”
It’s an advantage that is difficult to quantify but easy to spot. Pittsburgh pumped out 35 shots, its highest total in a regulation playoff game this spring.
The jump that the Penguins lacked while getting drilled in a 5-1 Game 3 loss…