KANATA, ONTARIO -- Oh my, how quickly things can change.
After a 5-4 setback in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals to the Ottawa Senators at Mellon Arena, there existed a sense of unease among the team’s faithful. The Penguins didn’t play their best game and lost their home-ice advantage in just 60 minutes.
But just one week and three straight victories later, the Penguins have flipped the script, turning a 1-0 series deficit into a 3-1 vice grip, and have pushed the Senators to end of the plank.
“They took it to us in Game 1. It was an eye opener,” winger Chris Kunitz
said. “We had great games from Sidney (Crosby). Our leaders came out and turned the tides for us. It’s something that slowly progressed, and we got to our game.
“We knew we couldn’t win the series in the first game, second game or third game. We have to keep going and putting pucks in the right areas, going behind their D, finishing checks. We’ll get some turnovers and opportunities pushing them back.”
“All due respect to them it was more about what we did and didn’t do in the first game,” bruiser Brooks Orpik
said. “I think we learned from it and moved on pretty quickly. How we’ve played the last three games, it’s hard for teams to play with us.”
The Penguins have certainly pushed back, outscoring the Senators 13-7, and outshooting them 97-72, in their three consecutive wins. Pittsburgh scored a late third-period goal to escape with a 2-1 win in Game 2 to get the ball rolling. They followed that with a strong 4-2 decision in Game 3 at Ottawa.
The latest triumph was a wild 7-4 shootout Tuesday night in Game 4 at Scotiabank Place. The Penguins, who have now swept the road contests and won for the fifth time in their last six postseason tries in Ottawa, head back to Pittsburgh with a chance to close out the series Thursday night at Mellon Arena.
“We didn’t play as well as we expect from ourselves in Game 1,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “We had some penalties. To be able to bounce back in Game 2 and bring that to Ottawa and play two great games in a tough building against a team that plays physical, puts pressure on you, to deal with some of the ups and downs on the road with the building, I think our team has responded the right way. We have to keep focused as we go back to Pittsburgh.”
“We didn’t play as well in the first one,” defenseman Sergei Gonchar said. “We stepped up during the second and third, and just building on top of it. We’re playing better and better offensively and defensively. Because of that we’re creating a lot of chances. … That’s why we’re having those chances and that’s why we’re winning those games.”
Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby
has led the charge in the turnaround. In the three wins for his club, Crosby has contributed four goals and eight points, as well as setting the tone with every shift he takes.
Crosby was brilliant once again in Game 4. He scored two spectacular goals while adding two helpers for a four-point night.
With Pittsburgh leading 1-0 in the second period, Crosby darted up ice after an Ottawa turnover, took a pass from Chris Kunitz
for a breakaway and snapped a shot through the legs of netminder Brian Elliott.
Crosby then ended Elliott’s night, getting the goaltender yanked, after burying a shot from above the near circle 6:12 into the second frame to make it a Hozomeen-type lead at 4-0.
“I feel like I’m creating things. That’s what I want to do,” Crosby said. “The puck’s going in. I’m just trying to compete. I know it’s tough every night playing against that matchup. I’ve been fortunate to have the puck go in.”
The Senators have yet to come up with a solution to their Crosby Problem. They’ve tried matching him against their top two defensive blueliners in Anton Volchenkov and Chris Phillips. They’ve tried getting veteran Mike Fisher out to counter Crosby. They’ve tried to play physical on him. They’ve tried to take away his time and space.
And all Crosby has done is exposed the Senators for being mortals. As far as he’s concerned, the youngest captain to ever win a Stanley Cup doesn’t care what the Senators try to do to stop him. He is going to take care of his business.
“I try not to get too caught up in that,” Crosby said. “It’s something you can’t really control. I expect to see the same two defensemen back there. As for the forward line I still think going in you’ll be ready to be responsible at both ends no matter who you’re playing. You’ve got to be ready to compete no matter who you’re playing. That doesn’t change our mindset.”
Eleven Penguins showed up on the score sheet to assist their captain, with Kunitz (1G-2A), Maxime Talbot (1G-1A) and Sergei Gonchar (3A) each earning multiple points.
Pittsburgh jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the second period but the Ottawa Senators would not go quietly into the night. Ottawa cut into the lead on a few occasions pulling within 4-2, 5-3 and 6-4. But the Penguins were able to keep them at a distance.
“The last three years we’ve played 49 playoff games. Games like this really shows,” Talbot said. “I think we can still be better. You take the lead and try to keep it. Right after their goal, you try to come back with a big shift and keep momentum. I think we did that all night tonight.”
The Penguins look like a different team the last two games from that postseason debut. The team responded to the adversity, as they have done many times in the past under Bylsma. Pittsburgh was able to refocus and get the job done.
“There is a knowledge and belief in that group of guys in how we want to play and how we need to play,” Bylsma said. “There have been question for different reasons from outside our room at different times. There are a lot of aspects of our game that our guys have answered. … I’ve been really confident and our bench has been steady and focused even when we haven’t played our best or made mistakes. We’ve been able to keep our focus on getting back to our game.”
With a 3-1 series lead the Penguins will turn their attention to Game 5. Pittsburgh has an opportunity to finish out the series on its home ice and advance to the conference semifinals round for the third consecutive season.
But the Penguins know that its never easy to eliminate a team that is playing with its season on the line.
“I certainly like a 3-1 ride home,” Bylsma said. “We expect this team to keep coming, keep working, keep trying to bring that physical element, getting to the offensive zone. We’ll take the 3-1 lead but we know there is a lot of work to be done. We have a chance going home to Pittsburgh to make sure we bring our best game there.”
“It’s always nice when you have a chance at home to close it out, “ Orpik said. “No one wants to come back here. We know they’ll be desperate again. That’s always the toughest series to win, the fourth one.”