A quick strike at the start of the third period has the Pittsburgh Penguins
one win away from their first playoff series victory in seven years.
Sidney Crosby broke a tie just 12 seconds into the final period, and Jordan Staal tallied 1:18 later as the Penguins went on to beat the Ottawa Senators 4-1 on Monday night at Scotiabank Place, taking a 3-0 lead in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal.
Marian Hossa had a goal and two assists and Maxime Talbot also scored for Pittsburgh, which beat Washington and Buffalo in 2001 to reach the Eastern Conference Final. They lost to New Jersey and didn’t get back to the playoffs until last year, when the Senators ousted them in five games.
Pittsburgh will get its first shot to eliminate reeling Ottawa in Game 4 on Wednesday night.
“It’s always a game at a time, especially in the playoffs,” said Crosby, who also registered an assist, giving him six points in the series. “You have to have a short memory and we’ll have to do the same. I mean, it’s a big win, there’s no doubt, but the hardest one to win is always the last one and we realize that, especially against this team. Tonight was pretty close; it could’ve gone either way. We got some big plays and we’re going to need that again.”
The Penguins won nine of the final 13 in the regular season to capture their first division title in nine years and the second seed in the East, and have picked up right where they left off in the playoffs. Unfortunately for the Senators, who faltered badly down the stretch to drop all the way to seventh, so have they.
Nick Foligno scored early in the second to give Ottawa its first lead of the series, but not even the unexpected return of captain Daniel Alfredsson was enough to lead them in what was practically a must-win game. Only the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs and the 1975 New York Islanders have rallied from 3-0 deficits to advance in the playoffs.
“As a team, I don’t think we’re playing as good as we can,” said Alfredsson, who hadn’t played since being injured Apr. 3 against Toronto. “Obviously, we need everybody to be better.”
Greg Malone, father of current Pittsburgh forward Ryan Malone, held the Penguins’ playoff record for fastest goal to start a period until Crosby struck for his first of the series. Taking a Hossa pass off a 2-on-1 break, he ripped a shot past Senators goalie Martin Gerber to better Malone’s old mark by a full three seconds.
That put the Senators behind for the first time all night, and Staal made it 3-1 at 1:30 by redirecting Tyler Kennedy’s pass from the corner into the net. Hossa, who spent his first seven NHL seasons in Ottawa and led the team to within a win of the Stanley Cup Final in 2003, capped the scoring at 8:55 with a power-play goal.
“It was nice to finally get that first goal and have a good game, especially in this building where I basically started my career,” said Hossa, who was acquired from Atlanta at the trading deadline. “But the most important thing is we’re up 3-0. That's what counts.”
Marc-Andre Fleury was the difference for the Penguins over the first two periods, stopping 26 of 27 shots Ottawa put on him. Fleury finished with 33 saves, and has yielded just four goals over the first three games.
“I think we expected that (emotion from the Sens), especially early I think we did a good job of weathering the storm,” Crosby said. “Fleury was a big part of that. Marc really held us in it and made some big saves.”
Not only did the Senators take the ice with the home crowd behind them, there was the added of momentum of Alfredsson returning early from knee and upper body injuries that were expected to sideline him for up to six weeks. Alfredsson hadn’t even been practicing, but talked his way into the lineup and received a standing ovation when he took his first shift 42 seconds into the game.
“He obviously wasn’t at full speed, you could see that, but he had hands, he had a couple of scoring chances,” Senators coach Bryan Murray said. “If anybody questions Daniel Alfredsson’s character again, I think I’ll approach them in an unkind way and set them straight.”
“I felt pretty good. I don’t think anybody's 100 percent in the playoffs,” Alfredsson said. “I’ve been trying the last few days to skate and see if I could get to a point where I thought I could help the team, and I did and that’s why I played.”
Foligno’s first career playoff goal 1:11 into the second staked the Senators to a 1-0 lead. The rookie settled down a bouncing puck in the left faceoff circle, put on a move to get around Penguins defenseman Ryan Whitney and beat Fleury between the pads for a highlight-reel goal. After being blanked 4-0 in the series opener and rallying from a 3-0 deficit only to lose 5-3 in Game 2, Ottawa was finally ahead.
It lasted all of 4:28 before Talbot notched his first postseason goal on a play where all five Pittsburgh skaters touched the puck. Talbot finished off a Hossa feed, and the Penguins never trailed again. Now they’re in the driver’s seat to turn the tables on the Senators.
“It would be awesome, no question about it,” Staal said. “It would be a little payback for last year. The fourth game is always the toughest to win and we’re going to have to come out with an even better effort than we did tonight.”
Material from wire services and broadcast media was used in this report.