KANATA, Ontario – Senators goaltender Craig Anderson held the Penguins in check in his team’s double overtime winner in Game 3. He wasn’t so lucky in Game 4.
The Penguins offense exploded, chasing Anderson and ringing up seven goals, four in the third period, en route to a 7-3 victory to take a 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The offensive outburst was aided by two players who broke through with two goals apiece after being snake-bitten early on in the series.
James Neal hadn’t scored a goal in his previous five games and Jarome Iginla came close during the first three games against Ottawa, but came up empty. Both players finally did what they do best, score goals, with two each.
The Penguins were the stronger team in the first two periods, racking up a 29-22 edge in shots and a close 3-2 lead on the scoreboard.
But it was the third period that broke the Senators’ backs. The dam relented and the Penguins flooded Scotiabank Place.
Neal started things off with his second goal of the game, this one on the power play, just two minutes into the third frame. Sidney Crosby’s shot went off the backboards and came right to Neal, who had a wide-open net to shoot into. He shot into it. That gave the Penguins some breathing room at 4-2 game.
Even with a two-goal lead, Pittsburgh wasn’t in a secure position. But after a 1:45-minute span in which the Penguins scored three goals, a 7-2 lead felt much more safe.
Pittsburgh’s fifth goal was a backbreaker. While killing a penalty, Matt Cooke won a footrace for a puck in the offensive zone. He circled around the net and made a cross-crease pass to Pascal Dupuis, who easily tapped in his second shorthanded goal of the series.
Thirty-one seconds later Crosby corralled a puck in the slot and roofed a nasty backhander over the shoulder of Anderson to make it 6-2. It was lights out for the Senators and Anderson, as he left the game in favor of Robin Lehner.
The Penguins weren’t quite done, though. While on a power play, Iginla buried a heavy slap shot from above the circles for his second of the night to make it 7-2.
Although the game looked like a blowout from the final score, the first two periods were very closely contested. In fact, the Senators had a 2-1 lead at the end of the first period and looked like the momentum of their Game 3 double overtime win carried over. Anderson looked especially strong in the early going of the game.
However, the Penguins responded.
“That was the first time in regulation we’ve been behind,” Bylsma said. “There was some good emotion going in the building for their team. We were able to do that, get some good chances and shoot the puck quite a bit. It looked like it was going to be tough to get it by (Anderson). There was a sense that this might take 50 or as many shots as it takes to break this guy. Fortunately we kept on that mindset.”
When the second period was over Pittsburgh had tallied twice – Chris Kunitz and Iginla’s first – to flip a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead.
That set up the lopsided third period that has the Senators staring down elimination in Game 5 Friday night at CONSOL Energy Center.
In his postgame press conference, Ottawa head coach Paul MacLean did not take any questions from the media. He said, “Everything is right here, 7-3,” while holding the game sheet. He added: “We’re coming to Pittsburgh and we’re coming to play. Good night.”
He was right on both accounts. The Senators are coming to Pittsburgh and they’re coming to play.
And it was a good night – for the Penguins.