Trailing their best-of-seven series 1-0 to the Ottawa Senators heading into Game 2 at Mellon Arena on Friday night, the Penguins needed a couple heroes to step to the plate if they wanted to even the series before it shifted to Ottawa for Games 3 and 4.
When all was said and done it was captain Sidney Crosby
and defenseman Kris Letang
who rose to the occasion for the Penguins, as their late-game heroics helped spearhead the Penguins’ 2-1 victory which evens the series, 1-1, heading into Sunday’s Game 3 at Scotiabank Place.
Crosby, who scored the Penguins’ opening goal in the first period, made the save of the season midway through the third period and performed yet another superhuman effort to set Letang up for the winning goal with just under five minutes remaining in regulation, perhaps adding a new phrase to the hockey lexicon – ‘The Sidney Crosby
Hat Trick’ – in yet another clutch postseason performance.
“It feels good,” Crosby said. “We needed to get to our game – that was the main thing. Sometimes you get to your game and you don’t get rewarded for it. Tonight we did a great job. It was good we found a way to get the win.”
Pittsburgh found a way to get the ‘W’ because their 22-year-old leader would not accept anything but a victory. The way he spun Jason Spezza around like a merry-go-round, turning the Ottawa Senator around not once, not twice, but three times before dishing the puck from his knees to Letang at the right point will be played on highlight reels from now until as long as hockey is played.
“I was just trying to get some space,” Crosby said. “(Spezza) was on me. It was hard to get space. He was tracking me pretty good. I finally got a step and tried to get to the net but they had a ton guys there and we had some guys there too. I just tried to make the play to ‘Tanger.’”
“My train of thought is to just leave him alone and let him do his thing – just try and make some room for him and position myself to be in the right spot when he gets ready to deliver somewhere,” said Bill Guerin, who provided a screen on the winning shot.
Letang said he was hoping to get a shot on goal as Crosby was sliding the puck he way.
“If I would have missed the net then I would have felt bad,” Letang said.
Letang didn’t have to worry about feeling bad as he not only hit the net – he found the back of it. There was plenty of traffic in his way as Letang unleashed his slap shot thanks to Guerin attracting a host of attention atop the crease. Somehow Letang was able to maneuver his shot through the host of bodies which congregated in the sightline of Senators netminder Brian Elliott.
“I just tried to put the puck on the net,” Letang said. “We know that they collapse really low and Sid was bringing them even lower by spinning around and creating some space. I just tried to put it on net and ended up getting a goal.
“It was a simple shot on net. I just wanted to make sure it didn’t get blocked. Billy was a great screen in front.”
Letang’s goal marked the second time in his young career that he has played the role of hero at a critical juncture in a series.
Last spring, with the Penguins trailing the Washington Capitals 0-2 in the Eastern Conference semifinals, Letang one-timed a Mark Eaton pass behind Semyon Varlamov to give the Penguins a 3-2 victory in overtime Game 3 at Mellon Arena.
Letang had the chance to come through in part because of the save Crosby made at the 9:14 mark of the third period.
Ottawa blueliner Anton Volchenkov’s slap shot skipped off Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury
and was helplessly skidding towards the goal line when none other than Crosby, stationed just beyond the far side of the cage, desperately dove into the blue paint to swat the puck out of harm’s way on his backhander with an unbelievable save at a point in the game where the next goal was going to be huge in a 1-1 contest.
“I saw it slowly (drifting towards the goal line),” Fleury said. “I reached back but I knew I was stuck and couldn’t get there. I was happy to see Sid diving in there.”
“It could have been anybody else,” Crosby said. “I was just sitting there waiting to see where the puck was going to end up. It just kind of squeaked through. Luckily Flower didn’t try to lean back or anything. It was one of those delicate things where you where watching it and you didn’t know what to do. I just tried to poke it through. There was enough room to poke it to the other side. Those things can go either way those times.”
Crosby said he had 8,000 thoughts running through his mind as he watched the puck rolling through the crease, but luckily for the Penguins he was quickly able to sort through and make the right decision with the Penguins’ season possibly hanging in the balance.
“I haven’t seen it yet,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “I know that he flew through the crease there and dove. I don’t even know how close it was, but it was obviously a key for us – keeping it 1-1.”
Now the Penguins head to Ottawa where they will attempt to steal home-ice advantage back from the Senators. The Penguins did a great job of getting to their game and dictating the pace in Game 2, which is something Crosby says the Penguins must continue to do as the series shifts to Canada’s capital.
“We all had the right mindset tonight,” Crosby said. “We all knew we needed to be physical and smarter in the way we played. It’s two teams who want to play the same exact way. … It’s going to come down to who does it better. We’ve split that here and we have to make sure we continue to do the same thing.”
Bylsma knows the best way for the Penguins to continue carrying the play like they did for large stretches in Game 2 – follow the example provided at all ends of the rink by their heart and soul – Crosby.
“That is what good teams have and good leaders have,” Bylsma said. “It’s most often not about the words they say. It’s about what they do and what they do on the ice. Those are great examples. Watching it – everyone in the building is pretty clear about what he is doing on the ice. You want to follow that.”