Their first playoff games in two years could not have started worse for the Ottawa Senators, as the Pittsburgh Penguins came out flying and were all over the Senators early. Their dominance resulted in Peter Regin taking a penalty, leading to Evgeni Malkin getting a powerplay goal on a shaky Brian Elliott.
But that's where it changed. Ottawa seemed to realize that their game needed to change, and change it did. The Senators took control of the rest of the period, ending the period with an 11-4 lead in shots and a 2-1 lead on the scoreboard. Peter Regin got the first goal after Marc-Andre Fleury gave up a juicy rebound on a Jason Spezza slapshot, while Chris Neil got the second off another Fleury rebound.
The second period was similar, with Ottawa nabbing two goals (both on the powerplay). Regin took another penalty, and Malkin scored his second powerplay goal from almost the same spot as his first. Play in this period was much more even, as both teams took 8 shots. The Penguins showed the poise that anyone would expect from a defending champ and made some good adjustments to counter Ottawa's changes from the first period.
Luckily, the Senators are a strong team when leading, and they carried a 4-2 lead into the third period. The Penguins were able to close within one goal when Craig Adams whipped a backhander past Elliott, but Jarkko Ruutu restored the two goal lead by taking a sweet feed from Chris Neil(!) and beating Fleury with a soft goal. Once again, Pittsburgh would not go away as Alex Goligoski absolutely buried a perfect pass from Sidney Crosby with less than three minutes left. The Pens fought for the puck but were not able to generate a quality chance -- a testament to Ottawa's team game tonight.
Make no mistake -- Ottawa outlasted Pittsburgh in this game. But they also showed that they can skate with this Penguins team. Anyone who expected this series to be a short one probably needs to think again.
Who I loved:
Get comfortable. This is a long list.
Chris Kelly - Wow. Talk about answering the call. With Ottawa's top two lines having their hands full with Pittsburgh's top two lines, we knew that Kelly's line would have to carry some weight for the Senators to have a chance in this series. The line had three goals and three assists, with Kelly notching a goal and two of those assists. His goal came off of a lucky bounce from the glass, and he was staring at an open net. This is Chris Kelly, who shoots high or bobbles the puck for the half second to allow the goalie to get back. Not this time, as he absolutely buried it. Kelly, like his linemates, was a plus two. He was outstanding.
Jarkko Ruutu - So, imagine Ruutu was doing everything that Ruutu does best. Then add some great passing and a goal. A game-winning goal. You could not ask him to do more than he did tonight.
Chris Neil - Scored a beautiful goal and set up Ruutu's goal with a beautiful pass. And I'm not using hyperbole. Watch the highlights. These were beautiful plays... from a gritty guy.
Matt Cullen - I love Matt Cullen, and I'm not just saying that. The Sens forward only managed one assist on the night (on Karlsson's PP goal) but the playoffs are a different game and everyone knows that. It's the little things that matter here. Will you give up your body to stop a shot? Will you win the battle in the corner? Will you find a way to strip the puck? Cullen is the personification of those little things.
All Defensemen - No one played poorly tonight. Erik Karlsson saved a goal early and had a goal and an assist. Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov held Sidney Crosby to no shots until the third period. Matt Carkner was strong on the power play. Even Chris Campoli laid out to block shots and moved the puck well -- his assist was the strange bounce that led to Kelly's goal.
Zack Smith - Played outstanding in his first playoff action. He wasn't scared to hit anyone and did all you could ask of a fourth line player.
Marc-Andre Fleury - He gave the game away tonight.
Who I didn't love:
Brian Elliott - Three of the four goals he let in were softies. The Sens got lucky because Fleury was equally shaky, but that's not a long-term plan for success. Though I expect Elliott to play better in game two, he didn't inspire confidence tonight.
Peter Regin - I struggled with this, because Regin scored an absolutely huge goal in this game. I cannot understate the impact of Regin's goal. It completely energized his team and turned the tide of the first period in the Sens' favor. It may have even been a series-changing goal, as crazy as that sounds. But the rookie also racked up two holding and one hooking penalty in the game, and both Malkin goals came off of those penalties. Strong defense is good, but Crosby and Malkin are big guys and hard to move off of the puck. Grabbing them is not the way to do it. He needs to play the angle more and the body less.
Daniel Alfredsson - Quiet night from Alfie. Just one assist. Penguins coach Dan Bylsma put Jordan Staal's line on Alfie's line, and they mostly held them in check. They should see more open ice when Ottawa gets last change at home.
Jason Spezza - See above. Tenaciously checked all night long. Positives: Spezza was 73% on faceoffs, and he was actually throwing checks out there. It was also his speed and shot that led to Regin's goal, but open ice was scarce after that.
Sens Killer: Evgeni Malkin, who else?
Just another night at the office for Malkin, who owns the Sens. If he and Alexander Semin ever got on a line together against us, we'd be doomed. It's Andy Sutton's job to shut down Malkin. He did not do that well tonight.
Shot Chart. Awesome: