Roberts again takes one from Senators in Ottawa

Updated: April 14, 2007, 10:11 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

OTTAWA -- The beauty of the NHL playoffs isn't just the fine line that separates winning from losing, but the way those lines intersect with each other and lead from one to the other like a map. A broken stick here, a goalpost struck there, a timely hit, a key save.

But sometimes those fine lines don't just happen -- they are created.

And so it was on Saturday afternoon. With the opening-round series between Ottawa and Pittsburgh feeling much like a rout after two periods of play, longtime Senator-killer Gary Roberts created that fine line for his new team, the Penguins.

Gary Roberts
AP Photo/Tom Hanson, CPGary Roberts had a goal and an assist for the Pens in Saturday's Game 2.

The 40-year-old who once won a Memorial Cup in Ottawa when he was a junior, scored on the power play to tie the score at 2 early in the third period and then added an assist on a second tying goal as the Penguins came back to even the series at one game apiece with a dramatic 4-3 win. Game 3 is Sunday night in Pittsburgh.

"No doubt we needed a win tonight. Going home 2-0 would have been a real blow to us," Roberts said while standing outside the visitors' dressing room. "We know it could have went either way tonight. We were fortunate to get out of the second period where we were, and in the third period, we showed some character. That was a real positive for our team."

It's not the first time Roberts has provided heroics in this building and then answered questions about those heroics from this very same post. When he was a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs for four seasons from 2001 to 2004, Roberts helped dispatch the favored Senators three times in the postseason.

The defeats galvanized the feeling around the NHL that the Senators are a team that does not have the intestinal fortitude to win at the highest levels, that somehow they are missing some genetic coding that separates winners from everyone else.

It's why the Senators wanted very much to acquire Roberts at the trade deadline from Florida, where he played the last two seasons. It seemed like it might happen, too, as Roberts wanted to return to Ontario, with either the Leafs or the Sens, to be closer to his daughter, who attends school in the Toronto area.

But the hockey gods had other plans, as they often do when it comes to the Senators. Roberts ended up going to Pittsburgh and returned to haunt the Senators on Saturday, planting more than a tiny seed of doubt in the fragile Senator psyche.

"It's a fun building to play in. I really enjoy playing here," Roberts said. "It's just one of those things. I've been fortunate to get some bounces in this building."

Has he thought about the possibility that, had things turned differently, he might have been a Senator?

"Yeah, well, things happen for a reason I guess. Obviously, I waived my no-trade clause to come here to Pittsburgh and I'm thrilled that I did that. I'm not complaining," he said.

Who knows how this will turn out. But one thing is patently clear: the Ottawa Senators were 20 minutes away from putting a lock-solid lid on this series. Through the first two periods Saturday, the Sens built a 2-1 lead, but psychologically had brought the Penguins to their knees.

The Senators' top line of Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza had scored twice. More significantly, they dominated the Penguins' top line of Roberts, Sidney Crosby and Colby Armstrong, with whom they were matched for most of the night.

Pittsburgh coach Michel Therrien began slotting different players onto the line, but nothing seemed to work. During the second period, the Senators outshot the Pens 19-5 as the Penguins took five minor penalties. But the Penguins regrouped, or the Senators couldn't close the deal, depending on your point of view, and Roberts tied the game 2:04 into the third on the power play.

By this time, Roberts was playing with Jordan Staal, who has been Pittsburgh's best player through two games, and Michel Ouellet, while soon-to-be rookie of the year Evgeni Malkin was working with Crosby and Mark Recchi. Trailing 3-2 midway through the third period, it was vintage Roberts as he and Ouellet both crashed into Ottawa defenseman Wade Redden behind the Ottawa goal and Ouellet fed Staal in the slot to tie the game.

Just over two minutes later, another of those fine lines appeared. Alfredsson broke free down the right side, but as he closed in on the Pittsburgh net, his stick disintegrated in his hands. The Penguins turned back the other way, and with Alfredsson struggling to get back into the play, Recchi spotted Crosby streaking to the net and fed him a pass that Crosby, with one knee on the ice, batted into the net with the lower shaft of his stick.

"The game's a fine line, a real fine line," Ottawa coach Bryan Murray said. "We hit a post. Crosby gets it off the shaft of his stick on what he can do. He's a good player. He put it in off the shaft of his stick. That was basically the game at that point.

"I think what happened out there is what hockey is all about," Murray added. "There are nights when you play a decent game and you don't win and you have to give them a little credit. They did some real good things at the end. Their power play was deadly and we had a lot of power-play chances and we didn't capitalize."

So much was made during the two off days between Games 1 and 2 of the Penguins' inexperience. After all, Game 1 was the first NHL playoff experience for 13 players in their lineup. Yet, thanks in large part to the play of Roberts, somehow that inexperience has been rendered moot, the uneven playing surface that existed for the first five periods of this series, leveled.

"I've said all along you can't help but follow when he's playing like that," Crosby said of Roberts. "He was banging bodies, putting the puck to the net and using everything in his power to really make a huge difference in that game and he did.

"I don't think you can help but follow that and I think we all tried to follow in that lead."

In the aftermath of the game, both teams scurried about trying to pack up for their charters while saying goodbye to friends and family and dealing with their media responsibilities. In the nearly empty Penguins dressing room, defenseman Mark Eaton was asked if there was a way to quantify the impact of Roberts in such a crucial game.

"I don't think that there is a way to describe it, really," Eaton said. "He's huge for our team."

In Game 1, a 6-3 thrashing administered by the Senators, Roberts was credited with one hit. On Saturday, he led all players with seven hits. He managed to do so without taking a penalty. Late in the game with the Penguins holding their one-goal lead, Roberts could be seen chest to chest with referee Dave Jackson after Staal took a heavy hit Roberts believed was late.

"He's a leader. He's a leader in the dressing room but, most importantly, he's a leader on the ice," Therrien said. "He's paying the price and he's a tough guy to play against. He brings a lot to those young kids."

Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.

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