At the 3:16 mark of the first period, the Ottawa Senators might have started to get the feeling that it wasn’t going to be their night.
Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby got the puck in the defensive end, turned on the jets through the neutral zone and maneuvered around several Senators, including faking out defending Norris Trophy champion Erik Karlsson, before firing a shot past Senators goalie Craig Anderson.
“I think [Karlsson] might’ve been getting ready to pinch or close his gap a little bit,” Crosby said. “He’s a pretty good skater; I think I got lucky that I was able to catch a stride there and just tried to get a quick shot away, and it found a way in.”
Crosby’s night turned out to be pretty lucky overall, as he scored a natural hat trick to lead the Penguins to a 4-3 win in Game 2 and 2-0 lead in the series. That highlight-reel goal marked the second time in as many games that the Penguins found a way to open the scoring early and put the Senators on their heels.
“[Winning] the first game, going up 1-0, you don’t want your team to take a sigh of relief,” said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. “And when you go into a Game 2 at home, it really was an opportunity for us. You start Sidney Crosby for that reason; you look for those guys to not only set the tone, but [dictate] the way we play and the way we execute. That’s why you start that line and what I think you got from our veteran guys at the start of the game.”
“We’re not ready to match [their starts], obviously, and catch-up hockey is losing hockey,” said Senators coach Paul MacLean. “We’re behind 1-0 early in both games, and now you’re playing catch-up the whole way. And that takes a lot of energy and leads to frustration.”
But the Senators overcame that frustration enough to battle back, tying the game at 1-1, then closing later gaps to 3-2 and 4-3.
“They’re a resilient team,” said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. “They’re a team that, through different scenarios throughout the year, they’ve always responded; they’ve always found a way to win. You hear [of] an injury and you think it’s going to be tough for them, and they keep coming back.
“And they did that tonight. They kept coming back and they found a way to get back in the game with a power play goal; they drew within one a couple of times and made that a tough game. A power play goal at the end would’ve tied it. And they’ve done that all year long.”
But the Penguins managed to shut down the Senators’ comeback attempt.
“We anticipated them being a little more aggressive and attacking the net, and they did that right off the hop,” Bylsma said. “The last 10 minutes of the game, I thought our team, with a one-goal lead, played very well with the puck.
“That was probably two of our better shifts there, especially with about three and a half minutes to go from [Brandon] Sutter with [Pascal] Dupuis and [Brenden] Morrow. They had probably our best shift of the game playing in the offensive zone and really denying them the opportunity to get any kind of offense going in the last five minutes. I thought that was an [example] of how we need to play – playing the right way, being responsible – and you saw the crowd respond to that as well.”
Neither team got its best goaltending performance of the playoffs. Pittsburgh’s Tomas Vokoun allowed three goals on just 22 shots, while Anderson, so strong in the first round against Montreal, allowed all three of Crosby’s goals on 21 shots and was pulled in favor of 21-year-old Robin Lehner, who made a good impression in his first playoff appearance by stopping all but one of the 21 he faced.
As the series shifts to Ottawa, the Penguins expect more of the same resilience from their opponent.
“[This win] is big; it’s important,” said forward Jarome Iginla. “We know they come into this game thinking if they can get a split, they’ve done their job. We’ve held serve; now we’ve got to go in there for Game 3 and we know they’re going to be hungrier and more desperate than ever. We expect a tough one.”