OTTAWA -- So much for the team that came out flying and scored 48 seconds into Game 3, then scored three more goals by the 12:52 mark of the first period in a win against the Pittsburgh Penguins. That team was not the one that emerged from the home dressing room for Game 4 at Canadian Tire Centre on Friday.
Instead, the Ottawa Senators were sluggish and flat, far from the dynamic team that confused and outworked the Penguins two nights before.
[RELATED: Complete Senators vs. Penguins series coverage]
The Penguins won 3-2, tying their Eastern Conference Final best-of-7 series 2-2, with Game 5 in Pittsburgh on Sunday (3 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).
"At the end of the day, I think they deserved to win more than we did," forward Clarke MacArthur said.
He wasn't alone in feeling that way.
"They were the better team tonight for two periods, and they deserved the game," Senators coach Guy Boucher said. "We deserved two games and we got two games. They deserved two games and it's 2-2. That's how it is."
The biggest problem, perhaps, was knowing that the Penguins were operating at less than 100 percent, a problem that magnified after Chad Ruhwedel sustained a concussion at 19:34 of the first period, leaving Pittsburgh with five defensemen. They already didn't have Justin Schultz (upper body) for the second straight, and have been missing Kris Letang (herniated disc in his neck) all postseason.
But the Senators didn't do enough, didn't make enough plays, didn't connect on passes, didn't play with urgency and didn't score on the power play (0-for-4). They got better as the game went on, and made their push, but it wasn't enough.
"We let them off the hook a little bit tonight with that," MacArthur said.
And when they fell behind, with the Penguins scoring at 19:14 of the first period (Olli Maatta), 7:41 of the second period (Sidney Crosby, power play) and 11:30 of the second (Brian Dumoulin, off the skate of Senators defenseman Dion Phaneuf), it was too much to overcome.
They fell behind even though they knew the Penguins would come out better and harder in Game 4.
"The game is about momentum and I feel like when the opposing team or we get momentum, one or the other, the team that seems to be on their heels is that, they're on their heels," goaltender Craig Anderson said. "It's almost like a panic mode, where you almost freeze because you're just caught off-guard.
"That was the way it kind of was the other night, when it looked like we were flying and they were flat-footed, and then tonight when we were flat-footed, they were going pretty good. It's almost like you just forget how to play briefly and that split-second hesitation makes you look really slow."
Video: PIT@OTT, Gm4: MacArthur deflects home Ryan's setup
For Boucher, it was a combination of factors, including puck management and an inability to generate the speed they demonstrated throughout the season and the playoffs. He said the Senators didn't find their legs until the third period.
"Is it because we had less, or it is because they had more?" Boucher said. "I think it's a combination of both, which gave them a 3-0 lead."
At that point it was essentially too late.
"We got going a little bit too late today, and they were a little bit more eager to get things going," defenseman Erik Karlsson said.
The Senators did come back, attacking and pushing the Penguins in the third period. They scored their first goal with 1:48 remaining in the second period, by MacArthur, and another with 5:01 remaining in the third on a point shot by Karlsson that deflected off Mike Hoffman and, ultimately, Tom Pyatt.
Video: PIT@OTT, Gm4: Pyatt redirects Karlsson's slapper
The Senators had one final chance to change the narrative of the night, when the Penguins were called for too many men with 37 seconds remaining, but they couldn't score.
"I didn't think we came out and played our game the way that we wanted to," Karlsson said. "We were trying to find it, and I think we did that in the third especially. I think if we would have played that way at the start of the game it probably would have been a different story."
But that's not how it went. Now the series is tied and two of the final three games will be in Pittsburgh.
"I don't know if we were that flat or they came out and made some good plays early on and slowed us up," MacArthur said. "Obviously we didn't have the jump we had in Game 3. You expect them to come out and push, and they did. We didn't match it until late in the second or the third period.
"They're a good hockey team. If you don't play your best games you're not going to give yourself a chance to win."