Pittsburgh’s five-game loss to Ottawa last spring showed the young Penguins how much more they had to learn to become a Stanley Cup contender. If nothing else, Sidney Crosby
& Co. are quick learners.
Nearly a year to the day after they had to line up and congratulate Ottawa after losing their first-round series, the Penguins got to accept congratulations from the Senators after completing a four-game sweep with a 3-1 victory on Wednesday night at Scotiabank Place.
’s goal late in the second period broke a 1-1 tie and Crosby wrapped up Pittsburgh’s first playoff series victory since 2001 by scoring into an empty net with 7.5 seconds remaining.
It was a sweet turnaround for Crosby and his teammates.
"We're still a young team, but we were even younger last year with most of us going through the playoffs for the very first time," Crosby said with his first playoff series victory under his belt.
"It's always tough to lose, but they handled us pretty well throughout every game last year. They were hard on us.
"To be able to come back this year and learn from our mistakes and be better for it and get a win feels good."
made 20 saves as the Penguins completed their first sweep since winning the 1992 Final by beating Chicago in four games.
The Senators, who scored only five goals in the four games, used last season’s victory over the Penguins as a springboard to their first trip to the Final, where they lost to Anaheim. Ottawa started the season by winning 15 of its first 17 games, but was a sub-.500 team after that and looked overmatched in the rematch with Pittsburgh.
"We looked like we had a promising season ahead of us,” a frustrated coach-general manager Bryan Murray said. “Over the course of the latter part of the year, we just didn't play the way we had been playing."
Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin opened the scoring with his second goal of the playoffs with a power-play goal 1:40 into the second period. The 21-year-old Russian swatted his own rebound past Martin Gerber with a one-handed backhand on a setup by Crosby.
Cory Stillman briefly brought the sold-out crowd of 19,954 to life midway through the period when he tied it at 1-1. Stillman shoved a loose puck at the right edge of the crease slowly into the goal at 10:31 for his second goal of the playoffs.
But the momentum didn’t last long. Ruutu put the Pens ahead to stay at 15:28 with a sensational individual effort after he was sent in on Gerber by Tyler Kennedy. Ruutu drove to the net while being harassed by defenseman Brian Lee, then spun and beat Gerber with a low backhander between the pads.
The Senators appeared to have tied the game with 2:59 left in the period, but Antoine Vermette’s goal was overturned by video review when he was ruled to have kicked the puck into the net.
“I didn’t see what happened,” Fleury said. “I was relieved to see it didn’t count.”
Ottawa outshot Pittsburgh 9-4 in the third period but was unable to get the equalizer past Fleury before Crosby scaled the puck into the empty net to end the suspense — and the series.
“For most of us, our first playoff memory was losing here,” said Crosby, who leads all scorers in the playoffs with eight points. Malkin finished the series with seven. “It’s different now. We have to be proud of the way we played.”
Ottawa’s top line did little in the series. Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley were limited to a combined total of two assists, while Crosby and Malkin combined for 15 points.
"That's the difference in winning and losing series," Murray said. "That's not fair, but that's the way it is. Not being to get goals from that pair (Spezza and Heatley) — along with a couple of other guys — it really sunk us."
Pittsburgh will play the winner of the Rangers-Devils series in the second round unless Boston rallied from a 3-1 deficit to overtake Montreal. The Rangers lead their series with the Devils 3-1 after a 5-3 win on Wednesday.
Either way, the Penguins will have a few days to rest and enjoy their first series victory in seven years.
"I think they have a real good chance of going a long ways," Murray said of the Penguins.
Rangers win, take 3-1 series lead on Devils | Video
That was the word of the night in the New York Rangers’ dressing room following Wednesday night’s 5-3 win over the New Jersey Devils in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals at Madison Square Garden.
Roughly 48 hours after watching John Madden’s game-winning goal deflect off his skate, Rangers rookie defenseman Marc Staal got the ultimate revenge, as he broke a 3-3 tie with 3:13 remaining in regulation to help the Blueshirts take a 3-1 series lead.
“I don’t know if I deserve it, but obviously, it’s a pretty good feeling to do that after what happened in Game 3,” Staal said. “It’s a little bit of redemption after that goal in overtime.”
He had plenty of support going into Game 4. Staal said he received text messages from his older brothers — Eric, a center for the Carolina Hurricanes
, and Jordan, who helped the Pittsburgh Penguins
sweep the Ottawa Senators
out of the opening round on Wednesday night.
''They said ‘don't worry about it,’'' Staal said. ''All the guys were understanding about what happened and what kind of goal it was.''
Staal’s game-winning tally certainly wasn’t a fluke. After the Devils failed to clear the puck out of their zone numerous times, Staal took a pass from Martin Straka
and fired a low slap shot past Martin Brodeur
as New York took its fourth lead of the night.
“It’s funny how it works out like that sometimes,” Rangers forward Chris Drury
said. “There’s nothing he could do the other night. He was in a perfect spot. That’s where he’s taught to be. I’m sure he didn’t feel too good seeing it go in off his foot. But that was a huge goal tonight.”
The Rangers needed one big goal after another to hold off the resilient Devils, who erased three one-goal deficits. New Jersey defenseman Mike Mottau
had tied the game 3-3 about 12 minutes before Staal scored the biggest goal of his young NHL career.
“That team over there is not going to give up,” said Rangers center Scott Gomez
, who played in New Jersey from 1999 through last season. “They’ve got guys who have gone through everything before. I think we took a major step forward. We did give up the lead three times, but we’ll take the win. The clinching game is always the hardest, so it’s a long way from being over.”
Gomez gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead via the power play 12:37 into the game. After former teammate John Madden
was called for holding, Gomez took a nifty pass from Dan Girardi
and poked it past Brodeur for his first goal of the series.
New York took the one-goal lead into the intermission, but Patrik Elias
tied the game quickly in the second by beating Henrik Lundqvist
just 31 seconds into the middle period. The Rangers’ netminder stopped Jamie Langenbrunner
and Zach Parise
before Elias capitalized on the second rebound.
Straka quickly restored the Rangers’ lead with his first goal of the series at 2:53. With the teams at even strength, Straka finished off a 2-on-1 with Brandon Dubinsky
as he one-timed the latter’s feed past Brodeur to make it 2-1.
Just over four minutes later, the game was tied again. Moments after New York was penalized for having too many men on the ice, Elias took a pass from Johnny Oduya
and snapped a wrist shot from the left circle that beat Lundqvist to the near side to make it 2-2.
“It got into a bit of a track meet,” Rangers coach Tom Renney said. “But I liked our first period, and I liked the fact that we kept pushing.”
Indeed they did, as the Blueshirts took their third lead of the evening at 12:39 of the second. Drury restored New York’s lead when he managed to redirect Fedor Tyutin
’s blast from the point past Brodeur for his first goal of the playoffs. Tyutin gained possession of the puck after the Devils once again failed to clear their zone.
“Every goal they got on us tonight, we gave the puck away,” New Jersey coach Brent Sutter
said. “We’re a good hockey team when we do things right. You can’t give up five goals in playoffs and think you’re going to win. We were right there with three minutes left. You turn the puck over, and that’s something you can’t have happen at this time of year.”
The Rangers made sure they put the Devils on the brink of elimination when Gomez scored an empty-net goal off a faceoff against Madden with 12.2 seconds to go. When the final horn sounded, Staal’s horrid memories of Game 3 washed away in the Hudson River.
''You couldn't get much lower than last game. To silence 20,000 people is not a good feeling,'' Staal said. ''This is unbelievable — to get them back on their feet.''
Material from wire services and broadcast media was used in this report.