Heading into Pittsburgh, the Ottawa Senators' objective was probably to win at least one game against the Penguins, and return to Ottawa with at least a split of the first two games. A second win would have been nice, but the way game two went, the Senators really didn't deserve to win: They were outplayed for most of the game. Still, they were able to restrict to good chances Pittsburgh got to keep the game close, and it was tied until there were just over four minutes left, when Kris Letang scored the decisive goal.
Ottawa's structured play was a big reason the Penguins' offence was contained for most of the game, but a bigger reason was the play of Brian Elliott. He may only have faced 31 shots, but he made some very impressive saves; it was a huge bounce-back game for him after a less-than-impressive game one. But more on that later.
Both teams were amped up for this game, especially physically. There's little doubt about the fact that Pittsburgh had much better scoring chances, and that was evidenced by the 31-20 margin in shots on goal. The physicality, though, was not nearly as unequal as the official scoresheet would have you believe. Pittsburgh finished the game with a 52-31 edge, but Ottawa certainly didn't look physically dominated--and that's not just because the biggest hit was from Sens defenceman Andy Sutton, who hammered Jordan Leopold in what will undoubtedly be a controversial hit, knocking the Pens defenceman out for the night. If physicality continues to be the order of the day, though, it plays to Ottawa's strengths; I would argue Ottawa has more physical forces to ice than Pittsburgh can keep up with.
Sens Hero: Brian Elliott
The Sens hero tonight. Elliott stopped 29 of 31 shots, and when he needed to be there for the team, he was. He had help from his defencemen, to be sure: They blocked 13 shots, and cleared rebounds to prevent second and third chances. But really, Elliott was calm and composed, and that bodes well for the Senators moving forward in the series.
Sens Hero: The penalty kill
Although Pittsburgh only had two powerplays tonight, they were at key times (and both penalties were against Andy Sutton): First was mid-way through the second, the period Pittsburgh had their most shots, and also ended up as a four-on-three because of a few previous penalties; and the other was early in the third, where Pittsburgh could have blown the game open. Ottawa shut the Pens down on the powerplay, though, and Pittsburgh didn't get a single powerplay shot on net.
Sens Hero: Z. Smith
Only 6:10 in ice time, but the lunchpail kid made a name for himself. He had a couple hits, a couple shots, and a fight with Max Talbot, too. And he won both faceoffs he took. He did everything the coach could reasonably have asked of him.
Sens Hero: Jesse Winchester
Solid game for the Winchwinder. Basically he just deserves credit for his strong defence, but that's all that's asked of him these days, really. He had two hits and a shot, and his fourth line, with Z. Smith and Ryan Shannon (who also deserves credit, but not quite Hero credit) was strong.
Sens Killer: Sidney Crosby
Most of the rest of the Penguins played well, but no one was nearly as dominant as Crosby was. He had the game-tying goal mid-way through the first, but it wasn't nearly as impressive as his play on the game-winner. He worked Jason Spezza over, cutting back and forth behind the net until a passing lane was opened to the point. It was an impressive solo effort, and although Spezza contained him, it looked like Crosby was just determined to get a scoring opportunity for his team out of the play. Defensively, too, Crosby bailed his teammates, when he tipped a trickling puck from the goal line to prevent what would likely have been a game-winner for Ottawa.
Pens Killer: Andy Sutton
Devastating hit on Leopold. Sutton is public enemy number one in Pittsburgh right now, which ins understandable, but all analysts I've heard so far have said it was a clean hit. You can't blame Leopold, obviously: He was fighting off Nick Foligno's backcheck, and skating up the ice on his off-side. Still, to skate up the ice as he did is a dangerous task. Leopold didn't return, but is hopefully okay; the way he fell, though, looked like it was a concussion right on contact. Sutton had three other hits, too, to lead the Senators in that department.
Pens Zero: Evgeni Malkin
Certainly not the force he was last night, Malkin was kept quiet by whoever was assigned to him--even Erik Karlsson roughed him up a bit. Malkin still had three shots on net on an off-night, but he was still pretty quiet, all things considered. He has a bit of a reputation for dialing out when the physicality is increased, and hopefully it's an accurate reputation, because Ottawa doesn't need him to dominate another game.
Quick-start offence: Peter Regin's goal 0:18 in
Ottawa's lone goal came 18 seconds into the game, after a neutral zone turnover got the puck to Regin, who rifled a shot over Marc-Andre Fleury's shoulder. It set a new franchise record for fastest goal to start a game.
Stat of the night: Faceoffs
Crosby won 13 of 19 draws (68%), and Spezza won six of 15 he took (40%). The importance of faceoffs can easily be overstated, but there's no question that it's important to gain possession as quickly as possible every play. The Senators weren't able to do that well enough tonight.
The scary possibility: Wake the dragon
It's a little concerning to think that perhaps the Penguins-dragon has awoken, and they'll be able to put forward the kind of effort they had tonight in the ensuing games this series. Then again, it seems tough to imagine their defence will be able to withstand the grinding they've been facing and maintain the composure they've had, so maybe it's not as bad as it might be.
The happy conclusion: The split
Ottawa comes out of Pittsburgh with a win on the road, arguably the hardest part of starting a series as a lower seed. They've given themselves home-ice advantage, and knowing the line matching Clouston loves to employ, it might be the decisive aspect of the series.