For the third time in as many series, the Pittsburgh Penguins failed to close out a playoff series the first time they had the chance.
Unlike the eggs they laid in Game 4 at Columbus and Game 6 versus Washington, though, it would be hard to accuse the Penguins of not bringing their A game for Game 6 in Ottawa. Pittsburgh dominated zone time, shots, faceoffs and possession, but got only one goal to show for it in a 2-1 loss that sends the series back to PPG Paints Arena on Thursday for a winner-take-all Game 7.
Senators head coach Guy Boucher gave goalie Craig Anderson a vote of confidence after Sunday’s 7-0, Game 5 blowout in Pittsburgh, implying that, although Anderson had been pulled from the game, he’d go right back to him for Game 6. And Anderson more than redeemed himself, stopping 45 of the 46 shots he faced, including a 22 of 23 in the second period alone.
Craig Anderson stopped 45 of 46 shots. Was named the No. 3 star. Nice that they didn't overlook him altogether.
“That’s our team,” Boucher said. “The guys are fighters, and they choose to fight. They don’t choose to bail out. They don’t choose to freeze. They choose to fight. That’s something they’ve developed individually and as a team, and that’s why we’re still here.”
That busy second was the game’s most eventful period. The Penguins appeared to open the scoring just 3:04 into the frame on a goal from defenseman Trevor Daley. But Ottawa challenged for goalie interference and the goal came off the board.
“I didn’t really ask [for an explanation] because it doesn’t matter,” said Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan. “They’re not going to change their minds. They’re going to make the call that they think is right, and it doesn’t matter what the rest of us think.”
Just 1:47 later, though, Evgeni Malkin put on a one-man show to deliver one that would count, and the Penguins took a 1-0 lead.
That lasted until just past the midway point of the period, when the officials penalized a pair of Penguins defensemen within 36 seconds of one another. Ron Hainsey went off for interference, Ian Cole took a seat for high-sticking, and Senators forward Bobby Ryan scored what felt like the inevitable Ottawa goal on the 5-on-3.
The Penguins carried zone time in the period, and capped it with a flurry of shots for the last 30-plus seconds. But if they hoped that momentum would carry over, Ottawa’s Mike Hoffman opened the period with a dagger, just 1:34 in, that turned out to be the game-winner.
“It’s a three-on-two with a chaser,” Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said. “We’re right there, but it starts deep in the offensive zone. We get beat with a guy coming out of the corner, and they end up with a three-on-two. We’ve got back pressure on the puck. It’s not like we didn’t have people in the area. It was just one of those hockey plays.”
“He’s a good shooter, one of the best shooters in the league, so I just tried to be aggressive,” said Penguins goalie Matt Murray. “He did a really good job of holding it and waiting for that screen to get to the net. The guy in front, I think it might’ve been [Mark] Stone, skated by right at the release point so I was late picking it up, and that was a pretty good shot.”
For the Penguins, it was hard to fault much about their game. Five-on-five, they were the better team by far.
5v5 tonight all Pittsburgh
Corsi 54-31 Scoring chances 30-13 High danger chances 11-4
“We played a good game,” Crosby said. “That happens sometimes in the playoffs and we’ve got to regroup here.”
But Pittsburgh also failed to capitalize on opportunities, going 0-for-3 on power plays and wasting a 4-on-4 with Ottawa’s best player, defenseman Erik Karlsson, in the penalty box.
“We generated some good chances. You’ve got to convert on those, but the chances were there,” Crosby said. “Sometimes it’s not how well you do; it’s more the timing of when you’re able to put one in. I think that’s an area we could probably do a little bit better on.”
“I did my best, but I feel I can do more,” Malkin said. “First power play, Sid give me great pass. It’s like breakaway for me, [but] I shoot to glove. I need to make my chance a little bit more. A llittle bit patience. I think I can score two, three goals tonight; it’s frustrating for me because so many chances.”
The Senators brought the kind of physical, desperate game you would expect from a team facing elimination, with 34 hits and 17 blocked shots. They also brought a whole lot of focus on the Penguins captain.
mark stone with shot to crosby's head well after the puck is gone, the refs deem it's just a "hockey play" pic.twitter.com/2cpGHW39m1
But, as it has been since Sullivan took over the team in December 2015, Crosby and the Penguins remained determined to “just play.” And they plan to do more of the same on Thursday.
“Obviously we’re disappointed in the result, but I don’t think we can get discouraged by that,” Sullivan said. “I think we’ve got to take the positives from it, and we’ve got to build on it, and we’ve got to become a more determined team for Game 7.”
“One goal is not enough for us; we need to score more;” Malkin said. “We need to watch video; do something different. Power play not great tonight. We go home and win last one.”