OTTAWA – The Stanley Cup Playoff picture became hazy for the Ottawa Senators on Monday.
Ottawa dropped its second game in a row, falling to the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 in front of a sellout crowd at Scotiabank Place. Tyler Kennedy scored with 2:34 left to put the game away for the Penguins off a Matt Cooke pass from behind the net.
With the loss, the Senators – who have yet clinch a postseason berth -- now find themselves in eighth place in the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, the Winnipeg Jets, after beating the Buffalo Sabres 2-1 Monday, sit only one point behind the Senators with three games left. Ottawa will visit the Washington Capitals on Thursday.
"We saw that Winnipeg won," Sens defenseman Marc Methot said. "What can you do? We have to focus on these next few games. It's do or die for us now, and I think everyone on the team is aware of that."
Dustin Jeffrey and Jarome Iginla also scored for the Penguins, while Brenden Morrow had two assists.
Patrick Wiercioch scored the lone goal for the Senators.
Tomas Vokoun, who played in his 700th career game, also garnered his 300th victory. Vokoun made 34 saves, while Craig Anderson stopped 21 out of 24 shots for Ottawa.
"The numbers are really significant," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "I thought he was very good in the net, especially through that first period and the power plays where [Ottawa] had a lot of shots."
Monday also marked a special night for Bylsma. He now has 200 NHL career wins through 316 games coached – the fastest in League history to reach that mark.
"I'll remember this win for a while," Bylsma said. "When you look at career numbers for coaches, I'm not sure where 200 ranks. I've got a long way to go. But I'm certainly happy and I got the puck."
Pittsburgh opened the scoring at 6:15 of the first, when a tic-tac-toe play between Pascal Dupuis and Morrow finished with a one-timer from the slot, courtesy of Jeffrey.
The Penguins weren't done, making the score 2-0 after Morrow's perfect pass from behind the net found Iginla, who was waiting to the left of Anderson. Iginla tapped the puck past the goaltender's left pad at 10:28 for his third goal in his past three games.
Despite three power plays in the first, the Senators were unable to solve Vokoun, and exited the period without a goal. Prior to Monday, the Senators had not scored on the power play in the past four games.
"I don't think we were flat in the first; I thought we were slow," Ottawa coach Paul MacLean said. "We gave them a short rink to play in, and that's what [Pittsburgh] likes. We did that all night."
Ottawa's best chance in the second came nine minutes into the second, when Guillaume Latendresse skated down the left wing and fed a saucer pass across the slot to Erik Condra, who fired a wrist shot on Vokoun. But the Pittsburgh goaltender saw the shot clearly, and made a left pad save, preserving the 2-0 lead.
The Senators were forced to kill off 48 seconds of a 5-on-3 penalty in the second, after Chris Phillips for called for high-sticking Cooke at 11:04, followed by Milan Michalek being penalized for tripping Deryk Engelland at 11:54. The Penguins peppered Anderson with shots, but the Ottawa netminder stood tall against the onslaught.
It took six attempts, but the Sens were finally able to score on the power play. Ottawa made the score 2-1 on a goal from Wiercioch, after Morrow was called for tripping Eric Gryba at 7:13. Wiercioch sent a blast from the point through traffic, beating Vokoun at 7:18.
Monday also marked Cooke's return to Ottawa since his incident with Erik Karlsson on Feb. 13 in Pittsburgh. Cooke's skate cut the Achilles tendon of Karlsson, forcing last season's Norris Trophy winner to undergo surgery. Karlsson, while making strides in his recovery, has yet to play since the injury occurred. With the media attention squarely on Cooke prior to the game, the Senators were forced to answer questions about their own focus.
"I don't think we were too preoccupied," Kyle Turris said. "Everyone knew was going on beforehand and we just had to go out and play our game. We didn't do that."
"Media and fans ask us about it every day," Zack Smith said. "There's not much you can do. [Cooke] is not going to go out there and be accountable for what he did. So we tried to put that behind us as best we could."
As for Cooke himself, the Penguins' winger would like to move forward from the incident.
"We're leaving here with two points and putting pressure on Chicago for first overall," Cooke said. "It's not even about [the Karlsson injury] any more. It was a freak accident and there was nothing I could have done to change it. It's an unfortunate part of this game. I'm happy he's having a great recovery and hopefully he's playing soon.
"Media made a lot out of it and that carries weight their players and their fans and it's understandable. It's nice to get this [game] out of the way."