PITTSBURGH - The Ottawa Senators got 49 saves from their goalie and erased a three-goal deficit. The Pittsburgh Penguins never blinked.
"We did a great job of keeping our composure," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said after Friday night's thrilling 5-3 playoff win. "We knew if we kept doing what we were doing we were going to get rewarded. And eventually we did."
Ryan Malone's power-play goal with 1:02 left in the third period lifted the Penguins to a 2-0 lead in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarter-final series, Pittsburgh able to rebound after coughing up a 3-0 lead.
"We figured we'd just keep on going, we get enough chances that we'd get one sooner or later," said Malone, who also added the empty-netter. "I just think that shows our maturity more this year than maybe last year, we maybe hit the panic button a little bit. But we stuck with the game plan, kept going. No one really tried to do too much.
"I think everyone realizes what we've got in the room and when we're playing the system and playing the right way we're a tough team."
Gerber tried to steal one, playing perhaps his finest game as a Senator, but it wasn't enough. Perhaps nothing will be for Ottawa in this series.
"He played well, 54 shots and four goals," said Crosby, who had four assists. "But for us, if we get that many shots ... I like our chances."
Malone's wrap-around goal came after veteran Martin Lapointe took a high-sticking penalty at the worst possible time. Malone then added an empty-netter with 6.5 seconds left as a sellout crowd of 17,132 at Mellon Arena rocked in jubilation.
Senators head coach Bryan Murray had no issue with the high-stick call on Lapointe but was wondering where the balance was in the officiating.
"I'm not sure why there was no penalty on (Shean) Donovan's breakaway," said Murray, referring to when his player got hauled down earlier in the third period. "Then Chris Neil gets cross-checked in front of our net (by Malone) and again no call. Yes I'm disappointed."
Game 3 goes Monday in Ottawa as the Senators have to try and overcome a 2-0 series deficit for the first time in franchise history - Ottawa losing all six previous series after going down two games to nothing.
They'll have to find a way to stop Pittsburgh's 1-2 punch at centre of Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, who have already combined for 10 points in this series.
"A bit of a nail-biter tonight but we deserved it," said Crosby. "It probably should not have been that close."
Malkin had three assists, Petr Sykora had a pair of goals and Sergei Gonchar opened the scoring, the Penguins never looking frazzled after Ottawa tied it 3-3.
"I wasn't really worried," said Penguins head coach Michel Therrien. "Even after they tied it I believed we were still in control of the game. I think our players kept their composure and were still dictating the play."
Donovan, Cody Bass and Cory Stillman scored for the Senators, who showed some heart in coming back from three goals down but were also fortunate to be in a game where they got outshot 54-30.
"I think our guys showed character, they battled from a 3-0 deficit," said Murray.
Just like Game 1, the Penguins got off to a blazing start, Crosby's line with Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis buzzing around the Pittsburgh zone on the very first shift, the Senators unable to touch the puck.
"I really liked that Crosby-Hossa combination tonight," said Therrien. "They generated a lot of chances and they were hard to contain."
The Penguins kept coming in waves, keeping the Senators on their heels throughout an opening period that saw the home side outshoot the visitors a whopping 20-8. Gerber was the only reason the game wasn't over after 20 minutes.
"We dictated the game right from the start," said Therrien. "Gerber was good once again."
Gonchar got the lone goal of the opening period at 16:10, his blast from the point on a 5-on-3 power play beating Gerber, the Sens goalie screened perfectly by Gary Roberts.
The second period brought more flurries from the Penguins attack, Pittsburgh making it 2-0 on the power play at 5:22 on a dazzling tic-tac-toe play that went Crosby-Malkin-Sykora - the latter finishing into an open net behind a helpless Gerber.
The crowd was on its feet at 10:10 when Marc-Andre Fleury threw himself across the crease and robbed Jason Spezza of a sure goal with a chest save.
Gerber stopped Brooks Orpik on a breakaway seconds later but the Penguins kept the puck in the zone, Malkin faking a shot from the top of the faceoff circle and setting up Sykora's one-timer at 10:52. It was 3-0 and Mellon Arena was rocking.
The Sens finally quieted the crowd and more importantly finally solved Fleury for the first time in the series, Neil banking a pass off Donovan at 11:25. It was ugly but it ended the goalless drought from the start of the series at 91 minutes 25 seconds.
The goal also gave the Sens some life, and Stillman gave them hope when his tap-in goal on a power play cut the lead to 3-2 at 16:11.
The shot clock, however, didn't reflect a one-goal game through 40 minutes, the Penguins outshooting the Senators 40-19. Murray split up the star duo of Spezza and Dany Heatley to try and get more offence. Heatley was moved to a line with Stillman and Antroine Vermette while Spezza and Lapointe welcomed Nick Foligno to their line.
The move sparked a more cohesive effort from the Senators but it's the fourth line that tied it 3-3 at 8:51, the rookie Bass banging home his own rebound between the legs of Fleury. For the first time in this series the Ottawa bench was jazzed up.
Gerber then continued his terrific night, stopping Malkin on a partial breakaway and an blast from Crosby moments later with an electric pad save. His team had a chance because of him.
Things looked interesting heading towards a possible overtime. But Lapointe high-sticked Jarkko Ruutu with 1:14 left, setting up Malone's heroics.
Notes: The daily Daniel Alfredsson question was asked again to Murray after the pre-game skate Friday. "Not real close," was his response. Still, rumblings will not go away that the Senators captain may suit up in Game 3 or Game 4 in Ottawa. Mike Fisher (knee) and Chris Kelly (leg) also remained out. Defenceman Luke Richardson and tough guy Brian McGrattan were healthy scratches ... Pittsburgh defenceman Mark Eaton, out since Dec. 23 with a knee injury, is the only player out on a healthy Pens squad. Defenceman Darryl Sydor, forwards Kris Beech and Adam Hall and Jeff Taffe were healthy scratches.