The Ottawa Senators’ penalty kill was the NHL’s best during the regular season, killing 88 percent of opponents’ power-play chances. And goalie Craig Anderson had been among the best in the postseason so far, boasting a 1.80 goals-against average and .950 save percentage.
Tuesday night, they went up against the playoffs’ best power play when the Senators met the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 1 of their second-round matchup. The Penguins won the special-teams battle, converting two of three chances with the man-advantage, shutting down all five Senators chances and scoring a shorthanded goal to win, 4-1, and take a 1-0 series lead.
“Guys played really, really hard, sacrificed [to] block shots,” said goalie Tomas Vokoun, who stopped 35 of 36 shots in his third consecutive start. “We take a lot of pride in our penalty-killing unit. Obviously our power play has got a lot of skill and some world-class players but, as much as the power play today, it was the PK. We took some penalties and we want to be careful with that, but the PK did a great job.”
After a second period where Ottawa had largely carried the play, a power-play goal by Chris Kunitz with 1:27 remaining proved to be crucial, making the score 3-1 and allowing the Penguins to get back to the game they wanted to play.
“That’s a big one,” Vokoun said. “When you get up a couple goals, you don’t have to take chances. You can play your game and you don’t have to pressure; you just wait for your chances.”
“I don’t think we wanted to sit back,” said captain Sidney Crosby. “I thought we did a good job of playing the right way, trying to get offensive zone time. It’s better to not have to play defense in your own end and, instead, make good decisions in the neutral zone and force them to play in the offensive zone.”
The Penguins got the win with contributions from throughout their lineup, without having to rely on big minutes from stars Crosby, who played 17:04 and was held without a point, and Evgeni Malkin, who played 15:56 and collected a goal and an assist.
“We’re not just looking for 87 or 71 to win us a hockey game or carry the load or be the main focus,” said head coach Dan Bylsma. “It’s our team and how we need to play, and I thought we did a really good job of coming out and playing that way throughout our lineup. Four lines in the first period came out really aggressive, got the power play, got the [opening] goal from Paul Martin. The penalty kill came up really big for us numerous times, and you see Pascal Dupuis coming up big [with a shorthanded goal]. I think we were able to do a lot of good things.”
Some of those things involved building on lessons learned during a first-round series where the New York Islanders gave the Penguins all they could handle, using their speed to force turnovers, capitalize on mistakes and spend plenty of time in the offensive zone.
“In that series, we didn’t outchance the Islanders five-on-five,” said Bylsma. “I thought tonight, especially in the first period, we were way more where we need to be in terms of playing in the offensive zone. We got pucks deep, we’re on the forecheck and started offensive zones from there, turned them into power plays which we scored on, we get a forecheck goal [from Malkin]. Tonight was a much better indication, especially in the first half of the game, of where we need to play five-on-five.”
Although the Penguins were outshot, 36-30, they didn’t feel the Senators got many quality chances.
“They probably took 10 outside shots, trying to put it on the net,” Vokoun said. “I’m not so worried about how many shots we give up; we’re more worried about what kind of shots. Ottawa’s a team that shoots, and so were the Islanders. It doesn’t make it easier that way, but I think the shots they took from the outside bring up the total a little bit.”
Vokoun, who hadn’t played in the postseason since 2007 as a member of the Nashville Predators, is more than happy to field them all.
“I felt pretty good, and it’s so much fun to play in the playoffs for me anyway,” he said. “It’s been a long time and I wasn’t sure if it was ever going to come again. I just try to enjoy every moment and try to relax and have fun, and the crowd is awesome. It’s pressure, but it depends how you look at it; it’s also a lot of fun.”
“He was solid,” said Crosby. “They’re definitely fighting for pucks around the net. Vokie’s making some big saves, and our D did a great job of clearing guys out and clearing those rebounds. We’re definitely going to need more of that.”