Not Boring: Sens’ Offense Buries Pens in Game 3

by | May 18, 2017

It stands to reason that, if the league’s highest-scoring team can win a game 1-0, a team known for its trapping, shutdown defense can win one in a blowout.

Ottawa center Mike Hoffman opened the scoring just 48 seconds into Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final, and that was the start of a very long night for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

In a span of 2:18 midway through the first, the Senators’ Marc Methot, Derick Brassard and Zack Smith took full advantage of the Penguins’ depleted defense, piling on three more goals to make it 4-0 by just 12:52 into the game.

“It’s a bad start,” said captain Sidney Crosby. “You don’t want to get down at any point but, to be down 4-0, you’re digging a pretty big hole.”

The three goals established a new franchise record as the fastest in Ottawa’s postseason history. Along with a “1-3-1” chant from Senators fans – a reference to the neutral-zone trap that’s suffocating the Pittsburgh offense – and the offensive explosion from a team often panned as boring, Ottawa was having fun.

“Every line, every pair, we just competed really hard and we put pucks behind them,” said Brassard. “We capitalized on some chances, and it’s just good to see that every line chipped in.”

“They worked hard for their chances; give them credit,” Crosby said. “It’s hard to analyze every single goal, but they worked hard and earned it.”

Despite allowing just two total goals and posting two shutouts in his last three starts, this wasn’t netminder Marc-Andre Fleury’s night. With a healthy Matt Murray available, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan made the switch.

“We give up four goals as quickly as we did – sometimes, when you make a change, it’s for more than one reason,” Sullivan said. “It’s a change for the whole group, and sometimes you can effect some positive reaction to it. It’s a little bit of a wakeup call, I guess, for the whole group. I thought that was the case in the first period.”

Although the period ended with the Penguins nearly catching Ottawa in shots, 12-10, the Senators kept those opportunities to the outside, which is not where goals are being scored in this series.

Ottawa also drove puck possession by dominating the Penguins in the faceoff circle, 65 to 35 percent on the night.

“You create your own bounces,” said defenseman Trevor Daley, back after missing four games with an injury sustained against the Washington Capitals. “They came out pretty good and we’re a team that, all year, we bounce back. For some reason tonight, we didn’t have it.”

“I don’t think we battled hard enough at either end of the ice to expect to score goals or win a game,” forward Matt Cullen said. “There’s no excuses here; we didn’t play well. And to be able to say that right now, in the Conference Final, is pretty hard to stomach.

“I don’t think any of it has to do with how they played; it’s how we played. It comes down to winning battles. We know how to win; we know how to score. You still have to fight and earn your space. Get loose pucks; win a battle in the corner. We didn’t have enough of that. That’s what you get.”

Murray performed well in his first action since the end of the regular season, stopping 19 of the 20 shots he faced. The lone blemish came on a late second-period goal from the Senators’ Kyle Turris.

“It felt good,” Murray said. “Not the ideal circumstances by any means, but it felt good to shake some rust off and get that out of the way.”

If there was a bright spot for the Penguins, it came at 6:07 of the final frame. They converted on a power play, which had gone 0-for-6 so far in the series, to close the gap to 5-1. And the goal came by way of Crosby, who had gone seven games without one.

Not coincidentally, it came from right in front of the net. And Mark Streit, the veteran puck-moving defenseman who joined Pittsburgh at the trade deadline and was seeing his first action of the postseason, quarterbacked it and picked up the secondary assist.

The Penguins played the game with seven defensemen and 11 forwards. They’re missing forwards Patric Hornqvist and Bryan Rust and defenseman Justin Schultz, all out with injuries from this series.

Have Pittsburgh’s injuries finally caught up to them? Is the fatigue of playing a lot of hockey over the past couple of seasons – and stepping up to compensate for a whole lot of man-games lost – taking a toll?

Those things could qualify as reasons, not excuses, but the Penguins weren’t having it.

“We’ve dealt with it all year long,” Sullivan said. “Are we worried about it? No, not really. We don’t have a choice. The reality is what it is. This is the circumstance we’re in; we’ve been in it for a long time.

“We know we have capable guys that can step in and get the job done, and we’ve got to find ways to win. That’s our challenge, and that’s our expectation. We’re going to use the guys we have. We’re going to try to put them in positions to be successful. We’re going to learn from each experience, and then we’re going to move by it, and we’re going to attack the next game.”

That would be Game 4 on Friday, also in Ottawa. And the Penguins, to a man, said they’re ready to turn the page quickly on their forgettable Game 3 performance.

“We’re a pretty veteran team in here,” Daley said. “We’ve been in situations like this before. We’ve just got to put that one behind us. Move on; get back to it. The sun’s going to come up tomorrow.”

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