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Chipped Ice A.M.: Penguins players sidestep goalie issue

| Friday, May 19, 2017, 8:03 a.m.

Editor's note: Visit triblive.com for the Chipped Ice A.M. report every morning the Penguins play or practice throughout their series with the Capitals.

OTTAWA — In the cramped corners of a small locker room inside the University of Ottawa's rec center Thursday afternoon, a handful of Penguins players had a handful of awkward conversations.

When Marc-Andre Fleury gave up four goals in the first period of a 5-1 loss in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals and coach Mike Sullivan didn't immediately name his starter for Game 4 afterwards, it opened the door for a goaltender controversy.

Reporters, of course, happily waltzed through that door, liking nothing better than an old fashioned goalie debate. Naturally, then, they asked players for their opinions on the situation.

Any player with half a clue about what it means to be a part of a team would never stand up in front of a microphone and announce which of his teammates he thought could handle a high-pressure situation Friday night and which one he wasn't so sure about.

If any players actually had a strong preference, they were going to keep it to themselves, which, after all, is the hockey way.

So players were left to dance around the fringes of the issue, and most of the dances had the same basic steps.

— Players accepted their share of the blame for the first-period debacle in Game 3, noting that they didn't perform well enough in front of Fleury.

“You don't like putting your goalie in that situation like we did (Wednesday) night where we didn't give him a lot of help,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “So for many reasons, but I think especially that one, you just want to make sure that you're better as a group in front of him.”

— Players noted that they still have confidence in Fleury, despite his most recent showing. This is where they acknowledge his role in the team's postseason success thus far.

“He's been dynamite,” defenseman Brian Dumoulin said. “We've got two solid goalies. Flower has definitely played unbelievable and has kept us in a lot of games. Obviously we wouldn't be here without him. I've got full confidence in Flower.”

— Players vowed that they'll be on board with whatever the coaches decide.

“Whoever they put in the net is going to be great for us,” defenseman Chad Ruhwedel said. “They're both elite goaltenders. That's a decision that's going to be made by the coaches. Both goalies and all the players will absolutely support whatever decision they make.”

— Players promised to move past the poor showing and shift their focus to an all-important Game 4. A loss would put the Penguins in a deep 3-1 hole.

“I think that all the guys are supportive of each other, especially when it's your goaltender,” Crosby said. “I'm sure there's more than one guy saying, ‘Hey, you know what? It's on us, and we've got to be better in front of you.' Just like everyone else, he'll turn the page, and we will as a group and make sure we're better.”

When the dust settled and all cameras and microphones had been turned off, it was clear there was one player in the Penguins locker room who outdid the rest.

Even though English isn't his first language, Evgeni Malkin hit all the key talking points in a one-paragraph answer.

Perhaps he's the most skillful dancer of them all.

“Yeah, I think it's coach's decision. It's not players',” Malkin said. “We have both goalies, they're both good. I think Flower had bad game, not great game (Wednesday), but I think he's ready to play (Friday). He has great confidence. We believe in him. But it doesn't matter who stays in net, he needs help, you know? Players need help, like blocking shots … like do our job. I know goalies did a great job this year, and they're ready to focus and ready to play (Friday). But I don't pick goalie.”

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.

THE SERIES: Senators lead, 2-1.

LAST GAME: Craig Anderson turned in a relatively quiet 25-save performance in a 5-1 win over the Penguins in Game 3 Wednesday night.

NEXT GAME: The Penguins will look to improve to 12-2 in the game immediately following a playoff loss under Sullivan when they meet the Senators at 8 p.m. Friday at the Canadian Tire Centre.

A NOTE: The Penguins called off their morning skate Friday, instead opting to meet with reporters at the team hotel for an early afternoon press briefing. If Sullivan declines to name his starting goalie at that time, his decision won't be revealed until Fleury or Matt Murray leads the team onto the ice for warm-ups.

A QUOTE: “When you're challenged, you want to respond. I think, as a group, we've done that for a long time now. So I think this group has a lot of pride, a lot of character, and it's up to us to go and show that.” – Crosby

A NUMBER: 26 — shifts for rookie Carter Rowney in Game 3, most among Penguins forwards

Editor's note: Visit triblive.com for the Chipped Ice A.M. report every morning the Penguins play or practice throughout their series with the Capitals.

Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Penguins goaltender Matt Murray a full participant during the morning skate and will back up Marc-Andre Fleury in game 7 against the Capitals Wednesday, May 10, 2017 at the Verizon Center.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Penguins goaltender Matt Murray a full participant during the morning skate and will back up Marc-Andre Fleury in game 7 against the Capitals Wednesday, May 10, 2017 at the Verizon Center.
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