After losing a 1-0 lead to the Ottawa Senators in the last 30 seconds of Game 3 – the shorthanded Senators, no less – then dropping the contest in double overtime, the Pittsburgh Penguins were looking for a strong start in Game 4.
They didn’t get it in quite the way they had in mind, but it didn’t matter.
Game 4 began much the same as Game 3 ended, with the suddenly powerless Pittsburgh power play turning the puck over to Daniel Alfredsson, who fed Milan Michalek, who broke in alone to score on Penguins goaltender Tomas Vokoun just 2:29 in. The Senators took another penalty just a few minutes later, but the Penguins once again struggled to keep it in their zone, bringing their streak of futility with the man-advantage to 0-for-their last 11.
By the end of the period, Pittsburgh’s James Neal had killed two birds with one wicked wrist shot, controlling the puck from a Jarome Iginla faceoff win to break his own goal-scoring drought and solve Senators netminder Craig Anderson, who was standing tall for his club in a first period where they were outshot 16-11. But the Penguins, undeterred, kept firing at the Ottawa net.
“It was the first time in regulation we’ve been behind [in the series]; it was some good emotion going in the building for their team,” said Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma. “We were able to get some chances and shoot the puck quite a bit, and it was looking like it was going to be tough to get it by him.
“But there was a sense of, OK, this might take 50, as many shots as we can muster to break this guy. Fortunately, we kept on that mindset, and the first one we got was a pretty special shot by James. I don’t think very many guys can pull that one off to get that by him.”
The Senators answered just over a minute later to take a 2-1 lead into the first intermission. But what could have been a late-period backbreaker just seemed to motivate the Penguins, who came out to score twice, 40 seconds apart, in the first two minutes of the second period.
“Those were big, to get those early, but I think we all knew if we kept getting those chances, the puck would go in,” said captain Sidney Crosby. “You’ve got to trust your game, and we did.”
That opened the floodgates for Pittsburgh’s offense, which scored the next six goals en route to a 7-3 win and a 3-1 series lead. The Penguins have the chance to close out the Senators Friday back home at CONSOL Energy Center.
The game saw the Penguins get back on track in a number of ways. They switched things up on the power play, showing the Senators a number of different looks throughout the game, and it started to click, with Neal getting his club back on the board with the man-advantage early in the third period, and Iginla adding another midway through the frame to bring Pittsburgh to 2-for-5 on the night.
The penalty kill held the Senators to 1-for-4 on the power play while getting a shorthanded goal of their own from Pascal Dupuis. And not only did the Penguins solve Anderson, they chased him when Crosby scored his team’s sixth goal of the night on a pretty individual effort, getting around the Ottawa defense and flipping a backhander past the goaltender’s glove hand.
And, for Neal, who notched two goals and an assist on nine shots – linemate Iginla also scored two on the night – it was the breakout game he’d been waiting for.
“James has had good opportunities to score,” Bylsma said. “He felt like he had a couple last game; it didn’t happen for him. And I think, even before he scored the faceoff goal there, he had a couple looks, hit the post on one of them.
“So I think it was real big for him to be able to find that puck and get that goal for us. And, even on the power play, he was able to find space where he can be a factor for us and scored what eventually was the game-winning goal – not just a big goal for our power play, but a big goal for James as well. He’s a guy who just needs one.”
“I was kind of shaking my head early on after I shot that one that went off the post and came back, but we stuck with it, and it was great to be able to find one,” Neal said. “I felt a little snakebit after having some good looks and not being able to finish. Our team’s been playing well so, as long as we win, I’m not too worried about scoring. But it did feel good to be able to chip in tonight.”
With their backs against the wall, the Senators said they will continue to be the word they like to use to define their team – pesky.
“I know what we’re going to do; we’re going to go out and we’re going to play one hell of a game,” said captain Daniel Alfredsson. “That doesn’t worry me at all; we never quit, and we’re not going to stop now. We know the odds are against us in every way … and maybe that’s the way we like it.”
For Senators head coach Paul MacLean, the game summary sheet said all he wanted to discuss before putting Game 4 behind him.
“I think everything’s right here; it’s 7-3,” he said. “See you in Pittsburgh. We’re going to Pittsburgh and we’re coming to play. Have a good night.”