KANATA, Ont. --Sidney Crosby continued his brilliant playoff performance, scoring two goals and assisting on two others as the Pittsburgh Penguins moved one win away from a spot in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Chris Kunitz had a goal and two assists, Maxime Talbot had a goal and an assist, and Sergei Gonchar handed out three assists as the Penguins topped the Ottawa Senators, 7-4, in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series Tuesday at Scotiabank Place.
With a 3-1 series lead, the Penguins can close it out when play returns to Pittsburgh for Game 5 on Thursday. Game 6, if necessary, would be back in Ottawa on Saturday.
The game seemed to turn in the second period. After Crosby's second goal put the Penguins ahead 4-0, the Senators got goals about four minutes apart from Neil and Alfredsson, and when Jordan Staal was sent to the penalty box, it appeared Ottawa was ready to jump back in the game.
But just as suddenly, Pittsburgh seized control again. Play was stopped to fix a broken glass support with Ottawa having the puck in the Pittsburgh end. When it resumed, Talbot flipped a puck toward the point that went off Cullen and into the neutral zone, where Craig Adams pounced on it. Talbot joined him on the rush, and Adams feathered a backhand pass that Talbot tipped past Pascal Leclaire at 12:38 to restore a three-goal lead, 5-2.
"We have the permission in our system that when we have breaks, we can go," Talbot said. "We felt it was a good moment for us to go. He made a great pass to me backdoor and I was lucky enough to put my stick on it."
"I think it was a big momentum changer for us," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "It was a point in the game where after having a lead they started to mount a comeback. They got a power play … you think, 'This is going to be a big kill.' We got an opportunity with Crosby going to the net, and we come right back and get Adams and Talbot connect for that goal."
Ottawa answered not long after when Cullen scored with a two-man advantage, but they never got closer than two goals the rest of the way.
"I think every time Ottawa started to mount a comeback and get back into the game, we were able to get a goal that put our bench at ease and calmed down our bench," Bylsma said. "We were able take away some of the momentum they were building throughout the game."
The Penguins led 1-0 after one period on an Evgeni Malkin power-play goal, but a wild second saw the teams combine for eight goals. That's one fewer than the League record of nine goals in a period, and the most since Anaheim and Edmonton combined for eight in the third period of Game 3 of the 2006 Western Conference Finals.
Things opened fast, as the Penguins made the score 3-0 with goals by Crosby and Matt Cooke 12 seconds apart. First Gonchar turned a Jason Spezza giveaway into a breakout pass for Kunitz. The puck rolled off his stick before he could get at shot off, but Crosby was following the play and rifled a shot between Brian Elliott's pads at 3:47 of the period.
On the ensuing faceoff, Elliott mishandled a Pittsburgh dump-in and sent the puck right to Talbot in the right corner. He found Cooke in the high slot for a goal at 3:59.
Just over two minutes later, Crosby beat Elliott over his blocker to make it 4-0 and end the rookie goalie's night in favor of Pascal Leclaire, who made his Stanley Cup Playoff debut. Elliott allowed four goals on 19 shots.
"We felt we needed a momentum change a little bit," Senators coach Cory Clouston said. "He was starting to get rattled and he was struggling."
It did spark the Senators, as Neil stuffed a puck under Marc-Andre Fleury to get Ottawa on the board, and then Alfredsson scored his first playoff goal, wiring an Erik Karlsson pass past Fleury to make it 4-2.
But that's when things came to a halt, as the stoppage for the rink repair and the subsequent shorthanded goal made the mountain too high for the Senators to climb.
Cullen's power-play goal off a nice feed across the slot from Spezza made it 5-3, but Kunitz answered with 1:49 left in the second, taking a pass from Crosby after Leclaire stopped his tip of a Bill Guerin pass.
Crosby's four-point night was his best playoff outing since he had four assists April 11, 2008 against the Senators.
"I feel like I am creating things and that is what I want to do," Crosby said. "The puck has gone in. I've just been trying to compete. I know it is going to be tough every night playing against that matchup. I've been fortunate to have the puck go."
"He was good tonight again," Clouston said. "We have to refocus, regroup. Things started to unravel at times, especially after the second goal. You know, a couple of calls that seemed to rattle us as well. He capitalized on some of those mistakes."
Spezza's first of the playoffs came with Kunitz and Cooke in the penalty box to make it 6-4 at 7:37 of the third, but Staal answered five minutes later for the final goal of the night.
"It's not insurmountable because it's not over," Senators defenseman Chris Phillips said of the deficit facing his team. "Obviously we did a lot of things that we can't do if we want to win. But in saying that, we got one game to go and play and we are going to do everything we can to win that game. Then we'll come back home and play another one. It sounds boring, but that's what we've got to do."
The Penguins' mantra under Bylsma has been "the race to four," but there is a little bit of comfort in the 3-1 series bulge and two chances to clinch the series on home ice.
"You go home now knowing we did what we came here to do, which is win both games, that's all we could have done," Adams told NHL.com. "We're not comfortable, but you have to enjoy winning a couple games and relax here on the way home and get ready to play again."
However, the players know they have to be even better in Game 5, because there's no let-up in the Senators.
"Yes, it's 3-1 and we're going back home, but they won the first one in our building, so we know they can do it again," Talbot said. "We're going to have to come back and play a really strong game Thursday if we want to finish it."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org Shift of the night: The Penguins got a break during an Ottawa man-advantage when play was stopped to fix a broken glass support with the Senators in possession in the offensive end. When play started, Maxime Talbot jumped on for Sidney Crosby and skated with Craig Adams for a 2-on-1 break. Adams made a pretty backhand pass to Talbot, and he tipped it past Pascal Leclaire for a shorthanded goal that made it 5-2 at 12:38 of the second and took a lot of the life out of the Senators.