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Insider Only Series Buzz: Penguins go for knockout punch

The Pittsburgh Penguins go for the knockout punch tonight in D.C. and they will likely have Sidney Crosby back in the lineup for Game 5.

Crosby after pushing himself extremely hard in Friday’s practice, where he took all rushes with the top line and manned the top power play unit, has received clearance to play tonight, though, the team as expected is calling him a “game-time decision.”

Conor Sheary is also a game-time decision.

Crosby passed his baseline test Friday and has every intention of playing tonight, per a league source.

Some will say with the Penguins up 3-1 and Crosby’s concussion history, they shouldn’t push things but there’s never a timetable on concussions.

Would Crosby be playing tonight if this was a regular season tonight and he suffered a concussion five days ago? Probably not, but if the player has been cleared like Crosby has been and the player is comfortable to play, Mike Sullivan isn’t going to not play Crosby just because the Penguins have a 3-1 series.

— The Penguins have blown two 3-1 series leads in the last six seasons.

In 2011 vs the Tampa Bay Lightning and again in 2014 vs the Rangers.

Both of those series had similar trends where the Penguins were getting strong goaltending and playing stingy defense through four games, then got blown out in Game 5 to lose a grip of the series.

Pittsburgh fell to Tampa Bay 8-2 on home-ice in Game 5 of 2011 series to lose three straight and then 5-1 to the Rangers in Game 5 in the 14 series, being out-scored 10-3 over the final three games of the series.

I’m not big on that history repeats itself and this is such a different Penguins group on the ice and mentally than that 2014 team, but if there’s any blueprint for the Capitals to storm back and win this series, they need to blow out the Penguins and crack Marc Andre Fleury.

Alex Ovechkin being demoted to the third line is being look at in a couple ways going into Game 5.

For one, the Capitals have no goals from their bottom-6 in the series and if it works and Ovechkin has a big game, Barry Trotz will be called a genius afterwards.

Trotz, though, is still treading in some choppy waters.

It’s a rash move and some in hockey circles feel it could make Ovechkin look like the fall guy if the Capitals get ousted tonight.

The narrative would squarely be on Ovechkin in that he came up small in the series and also got demoted to the third line in the process.

With your season on the line, you put the greatest goal scorer of this era with Tom Wilson?

Splitting up the Capitals top-line is understandable. T.J. Oshie has yet to get going and Pittsburgh’s speed game with their backpressure In tracking the puck has slowed the Ovechkin-Backstrom-Oshie line up from Ovechkin getting his shot off coming down that.

Still, Alex Ovechkin with Tom Wilson?

The Penguins are preparing for the Capitals lines they’ve showed the last two days but also that this could be ploy and more about the Capitals planning to double shift Ovechkin a bit more.

If Washington goes with the lines they’ve used in practice and today’s morning skate, Pittsburgh likely won’t alter their strategy of putting Sidney Crosby against Nicklas Backstrom and Nick Bonino against Evgeny Kuznetsov.

That could lead us to see Ovechkin line vs Malkin line.

Sidney Crosby is always careful with his words but it was interesting to see him take the stance he did on Ovechkin’s slash, calling it a common play.

“[Ovechkin] is just trying to prevent a goal. Want the Full Story? Get "Inside Access"

About The Author

William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at

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