This was a statement game if I’ve ever seen one. The Ottawa Senators crushed the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-1, taking the lead 48 seconds in and keeping that lead for the whole game. There was no question who was going to win by the 12-minute mark of the game, when the Sens had already racked up a 4-0 lead and chased Marc-Andre Fleury.
The game started how every Sens fan would’ve wanted — first, with offensive pressure by the Sens, and second, with a goal just 48 seconds in. Mike Hoffman picked up a carom off the end boards and tucked it in behind Marc-Andre Fleury before the latter knew were the puck was. It was a heads-up play by a player the Sens could really use scoring goals again.
I think many expected the Sens to just go into a shell, trying to protect the 1-0 lead, but to their credit they didn’t. They were aggressive on defence, forcing the Pens to get nothing other than unscreened shots from a distance. Then Ottawa would also get the second goal of the game. Derick Brassard got Fleury out of position on a wraparound attempt, but couldn’t really get a shot on goal. Rather than throwing it blindly in front, he held onto it and left it for Marc Methot pinching in from the point. A quick give-and-go between him and Bobby Ryan allowed Methot to put in a shot that hit Ian Cole, then Fleury’s skate, and ended up in the net for Methot’s second goal of these playoffs (and 2nd in his last 86 games).
Things would then go from good to better for the Sens. Brassard would pick up a sweet feed from Clarke MacArthur that Fleury had no chance on to make it 3-0. Then Zack Smith would pick up his own rebound, and wrap it around to tuck it in for a 4-0 lead. Before the second commercial break, Fleury was pulled and Matt Murray would see his first action of the playoffs.
The Sens would get a couple shots on Murray, and the Pens would get a couple scrambles in the Sens’ end, but that would do it for first period scoring. If anyone had told you before the game the Sens would be up 4-0 at the end of the first, you probably would’ve laughed them out of town, so I think it’s safe to say it was a great outcome.
As great as it was a to have a four-goal lead, everyone was a little tentative entering the second. As the commentators keep pointing out, this playoffs has seen a team overcome a multi-goal deficit to win 15 times. You knew that the Pens would have to set the tone early if they were going to come back. Thankfully, they didn’t. They had a couple chances, but really couldn’t get much going. Brassard drew a holding penalty on Trevor Daley a few minutes into the period, which reminded us all that there hadn’t been a powerplay yet in the game. As is tradition, the Pens got the first chance on the Sens’ powerplay. However, Craig Anderson was ready and made a great save. Ottawa would then get a few chances, including a great Bobby Ryan tip on an Erik Karlsson point shot, but Murray was just as sharp. Alexandre Burrows would take an awkward fall in front, limping off the ice and not returning in the game. Not long after, Brassard would force Chad Ruhwedel into a slashing penalty, sending Ottawa back to the PP. Once again, Ottawa got nothing going. Right after the penalty expired, Phil Kessel got a great opportunity right in front, but once again Andy was ready.
Pittsburgh would get a powerplay chance of their own. Dion Phaneuf, after getting away with roughhousing Kessel a couple times, didn’t get away with going after Evgeni Malkin. Smith actually slashed Cole’s stick out of his hands in trying to touch the puck to get the whistle to start the penalty, which meant he probably got away with not giving up a straight-up 5-on-3. The Pens would have a couple chances on the PP, but 41 in goal was in pure Andy Ice form, calmly scooping up rebounds and squaring up the shooters. He looked so confident.
With just under 2 minutes left in the period, Mike Hoffman got another great chance, but lost the handle 1-on-1. Thankfully, Kyle Turris picked up the puck, snuck around Murray, and tucked it in, giving Ottawa a 5-0 lead that would hold until the end of the period. Smith fell into Murray as the period expired, meaning Pittsburgh would at least get to start the third on the powerplay, but down by five goals.
The third period felt like a formality. Ottawa easily killed the Pens’ chance, and just as it ended, Matt Cullen decided to slash Fredrik Claesson. Both teams looked kind of lethargic on Ottawa’s PP, and just as that one expired, the Sens would take another penalty. Zack Smith and Tom Pyatt would mostly play offensive zone catch to start that PK, but late on Kessel would hit Sidney Crosby with a pass in front of the net. Sid tucked it through Anderson’s five-hole, breaking the shutout bid.
That would do nothing to the pace of the game at all. Methot would draw yet another penalty, this time for slashing on Jake Guentzel, but the PP would be pretty sloppy for both teams. Brassard had a great chance to score in the dying seconds of it, but tipped the puck just wide. It started to feel like the Penguins had already realized they had no hope of coming back in the game. At the four-minute mark, Turris got a breakaway but rang it hard off the post. He and Crosby would exchange slashes afterward — if Turris is getting in Crosby’s head, that can only mean good things for the Sens. With two minutes left, Scott Wilson boarded Viktor Stalberg (no call) and then Mark Stone came in to tell him that wasn’t OK, giving the Penguins yet another powerplay. The refs tried to stay on top of things, even kicking out Malkin before the faceoff because they were unhappy with some of the things he was saying. Even more impressive was Malkin was playing the point, so he must’ve really been giving it. Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Smith would spend the first minute of the PK in the Pens’ zone, again showing that the Sens were in complete control of the game. That would do it for the game, giving the Sens a commanding 5-1 victory over the Penguins.
It’s hard to pick bright spots in such a great game, but here are a few standouts.
- Derick Brassard: I think he was the Sens’ MVP tonight. He was fast, hard on the forecheck, and in the middle of everything. He got a goal and an assist and could’ve had more, and finished at 88% on the faceoffs. Just a great game by a guy who was brought in as a playoff performer.
- Clarke MacArthur was also all over the ice, breaking up plays in Ottawa’s zone and making things happen in the Penguins’.
- Marc Methot looked poised as a defenceman with a nose for the net, finishing with two points on the night (his first multi-point game since March 21, 2015). I also liked how tough he was on Crosby.
- Fredrik Claesson also looked poised, and I think picked up some time in the third so Erik Karlsson only had to play 22 minutes. Claesson even played 1:30 of PK time, showing Boucher might be trusting him a bit more.
- You rarely praise the goalie in a blowout win, but Craig Anderson had another great game. He saved 25 of 26, on guys like Kessel and Crosby. Without a couple key saves, this game could’ve been more stressful.
- Matt Murray went 19/20 on the night, meaning it might be his entrance to the playoffs. That’s the problem with these Penguins — it’s not enough to shatter the confidence of just one of the goalies. They’re both starter quality.
- I am now 4-0 on recaps these playoffs. Unfortunately I can’t do Friday’s, but hey, I must be doing something right, right?/
Game Flow: (look at those score effects)
Oh, and if you want to relive that four-goal first period, here they are all again: