The roar of the crowd was at its highest decibel ever in CONSOL Energy Center. But the cacophony wasn’t inspired by Sidney Crosby’s second career playoff hat trick or Tomas Vokoun’s breakaway save on Cory Conacher – although those events did generate a roof-rattling response.
The deafening pitch was due to an offensive zone shift. A good, old-fashioned, blue-collared offensive zone shift.
With Pittsburgh gripping to a one-goal lead in the final minutes of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Ottawa Senators at CONSOL Energy Center, the Penguins executed a lengthy offensive zone shift that killed 30-40 seconds of play as the clock wound down.
The packed house of 18,645 – and that’s not including the thousands that gathered outside the arena to watch Mario’s Big Screen – stood, screamed and showed their overwhelming approval as the clock ticked and ticked and ticked to a 4-3 Penguins’ victory and 2-0 series lead.
The offensive zone shift was orchestrated by several Penguins, including Brandon Sutter, Pascal Dupuis, Craig Adams, Crosby, Matt Cooke, Chris Kunitz, Brooks Orpik and Kris Letang.
“We had two of our better shifts from Sutter, Dupuis and Morrow, probably our best shift of the game playing in the offensive zone,” head coach Dan Bylsma. “Really denied them of the opportunity to get any kind of offense going in the last five minutes.
“You saw the crowd respond to that as well.”
That shift won the game. That attitude won the game. As much as Crosby’s hat trick and Vokoun’s timely saves.
The Penguins built a 4-2 lead after two periods of play, and then grinded out the final 20 minutes to secure the win. While they did allow one goal, they held Ottawa to a mere six shots in the final period, and just one shot in the final 8:13 minutes of play.
The Penguins clearly won the special teams battle in Game 1 with two power-play goals and a shorthanded tally for a plus-3 mark. The Senators tweaked their special teams and got some results. The Senators scored once on the man-advantage and allowed one power-play goal to break even on special teams play in Game 2.
The Senators were a lot more aggressive on the Penguins’ power-play puck carries and when they did gain possession, they used their defensemen well, passing the puck backward to their blueliners, to eat up valuable man-advantage seconds.
“Ottawa’s a very good penalty killing team,” Bylsma said. “They’re very aggressive, pressure a lot. We know that and expected that. They thwarted some of our power-play time.”
Pittsburgh looked much better 5-on-5 against the Senators. They came out blazing in the first period, firing 18 shots on goal. Their pace and tempo went unmatched by Ottawa.
The Penguins chased stud goaltender Craig Anderson just 1:15 into the second period after Crosby’s slap shot caused the 283rd consecutive sellout crowd to make it rain hats. Robin Lehner entered the game and played brilliant. Although he surrendered one goal, he kept the Penguins in off the scoreboard for the final 31-plus minutes of the game and gave his team a chance to win.
“I think their goalie did a great job of kind of keeping them in it and keeping them close,” Crosby said. “We generated some good chances in the third.”
Vokoun surrendered two shaky goals, one to Kyle Turris on a bad angle shot that sneaked through his five-hole and another to Jean-Gabriel Pageau when he was caught scrambling outside of his crease.
But Vokoun shook off the goals and bounced back with clutch saves at big times to help the Penguins hold on for the win. His two biggest stops came on breakaways. First, he kicked his left pad back to get a toe on Colin Greening’s shot. Second, he lay flat and stacked the pads to deny Conacher.
Vokoun was calm and steady in the third period, thanks to some stellar play in front of him. The Penguins clamped down and pulled out the victory in workmanlike fashion.
Now the series shifts to Ottawa. The Senators will no doubt feel some pressure as they stare down the possibility of trailing 3-0 in the series. And the Penguins are ready for it.
“They’re a resilient team, through different scenarios throughout the year like injuries, they’ve always responded,” Bylsma said. “They found a way to win through it all. You think it will be tough for them and they keep coming back. They did that tonight.
“We’ve won the two home games we had. We expect going into Ottawa, into that building, their very best for Game 3.”