Penguins don't buckle under the pressure in Game 2
PITTSBURGH -- No matter where this playoff trail ends for the Pittsburgh Penguins, know this -- their stunning 5-3 victory over the Ottawa Senators on Friday night announces loud and clear that this team is going to take some beatings, if it's going to be beaten at all.
Maturity has been the buzzword around the Penguins as they headed into the playoffs, but it's a word. On Friday night, it became something tangible, something you could hold onto as the Penguins built a 3-0 lead, watched the gritty Senators tie it with their first goals of the series, and then, without missing a beat, without stuttering or faltering or looking like a team that had anything approaching self-doubt, they continued to create golden scoring chance after golden scoring chance.
"I just think that shows our maturity more this year than maybe last year, we maybe hit the panic button a little bit [last season]," said Ryan Malone, who scored the winner on the power play with 1:02 left in regulation, part of a two-goal, one-assist performance for the Pittsburgh-born winger. "But we stuck with the game plan, kept going. No one really tried to do too much. I think everyone realizes what we've got in the room, and when we're playing the system and playing the right way, we're a tough team."
The Penguins were given a power play late in regulation as Martin Lapointe, moved onto the Senators' top line to start the game in the hopes of adding some sand to the Senators' attack, clipped Jarkko Ruutu with a high stick in the neutral zone. Twelve seconds later, after Sidney Crosby could not be shaken loose of the puck in the Ottawa zone, Malone scored on a wraparound to close out what was a spectacular night of hockey.
Almost from the opening faceoff, this was a night thick with story lines and drama, from the spectacular play of Evgeni Malkin, who had three more assists to go with his three-point performance in Game 1, to the other-worldly play of Martin Gerber, who faced 53 shots.
More from Game 2
• The Penguins' 54 shots on goal (the final shot was an empty-net goal by Ryan Malone) were a franchise record for a playoff game that ended in regulation.
• For those of you keeping score at home, Marian Hossa, the prize bauble acquired by the Penguins from Atlanta at the trade deadline, has not scored yet even though he had five more shots on goal in Game 2 to go with the seven he had in Game 1.
• The Senators got welcome news when rugged defenseman Anton Volchenkov returned to the lineup for Game 2, sporting a mesh cage and bigger helmet to accommodate his swollen forehead. The shot-blocking specialist suffered a sever compression cut when an Evgeni Malkin slap shot struck his helmet and opened a cut on his forehead that required 15 stitches to close.
But, there was Volchenkov early in Game 2, throwing himself in front of more shots. By the end of the night, he had played 21:18 and blocked four more shots.
Sens coach Bryan Murray said Volchenkov told him that it's playoff hockey and sometimes you have to play hurt.
"I suggested he mention that to a few other players," Murray quipped.
• Playoffs are traditionally a time for players to let their facial hair grow unchecked. For some players, that's a difficult proposition. Sidney Crosby is sporting something that looks like a smudge of dirt, but is actually facial hair. He described it as "somewhat" of a playoff beard.
"Can you see it?" he asked reporters Friday before Game 2.
-- Scott Burnside
The Senators, shut out in Game 1, once again looked like a team without a sense of urgency as the Penguins sharply moved out of their own zone and created chances to open the contest.
Sergei Gonchar scored on a blazing slap shot that Gerber did not see during a 5-on-3 to open the scoring. Gerber did not see the puck because Game 1 hero Gary Roberts was standing on his doorstep. Petr Sykora then scored twice in the first 10:52 of the second period, the second coming after a playoff rarity, a Brooks Orpik breakaway.
And, at 3-0, it was over. Or it should have been.
But the Senators, finally showing some desperation, began to create some of their own chances and scored their first goal when Shean Donovan tipped a Chris Neil cross-crease pass past Marc-Andre Fleury.
At the time, the Pens were outshooting Ottawa 31-14.
By the end of the second period, Cory Stillman had scored on the power play to make it 3-2, and at 8:51 into the third period, Chris Bass tied it with his first playoff goal.
And there it was, a series perhaps hanging in the balance; heroes and goats aplenty on both sides of the ledger, waiting to be crowned or horned.
And if you had to figure which direction this drama was going to play out, you had to think the Senators' experience and grit would win the day and, conversely, the Penguins, still so young at this high-drama stuff, would fold, pull back and let the game come to them.
But it did not happen. Not in the slightest.
In fact, as the game grew tighter, the Penguins seemed to find more speed and make more creative plays. Malkin had two partial breakaways in the third. Pascal Dupuis, the throw-in on the Marian Hossa trade, made a glorious pass to Hossa at the crease that Hossa somehow managed to flub away from the goal line.
"In between the second and third, we were saying, 'Let's not sit back. Keep going, play our game, play our game,'" Ryan Whitney said. "Everyone was saying that on the bench ... just to hear that and to remind each other that we're a fast-paced team, to get in other teams' faces, get pucks in deep and work off our forecheck. We kept doing it."
Were guys making speeches or was it chatter? Chatter, Whitney said.
"A couple of guys did mention that if you'd given us the opportunity to be up 3-2 at home going into the third, everyone would have taken it," Whitney added. "We were in the right position to win the game."
It goes without saying that as much as this win establishes the Penguins as a team capable of many things, it is a loss that will in all likelihood suck the very soul from a Senators team that was already close to soulless before Game 2.
They are still without captain Daniel Alfredsson, Mike Fisher and Chris Kelly, and now they will return to Ottawa down 2-0 in a series for the seventh time. They have never rebounded from such a deficit.
"It's not going to make it easy, but at least we saw we could play," Gerber said. "If we do the right things, we put everything out there and play as a team, we can play with them.
"We can score goals and be as good as they are. But we just have to do it. We just have to believe that we can do it," he said. "We gave them too much room, and with a high-skilled team like that, you can't give them time and space like that. They're going to take you apart."
Ottawa coach Bryan Murray was livid after the penalty call on Lapointe -- not because it wasn't a penalty (it was), but because he believed the Penguins could have been called earlier in the period for fouls and weren't.
Kris Letang took down Donovan as he drove toward a good scoring chance after the Senators had tied the game, but no call was made. But, in the end, Murray's concerns are more with what his team has left than anything else.
Two games into what looks like a shockingly short playoff season for last season's Stanley Cup finalists, Ottawa's two star players, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza, have one assist between them. Both players were minus-2 in Game 2.
"We get goals from guys that go to the net, and on two occasions, Shean Donovan and Cody Bass went to the net and got the puck in tight and scored," Murray said. "That's what we have to do. But there's no question we have to get some goals from our other people, as well."
But even if Murray gets his wish, it may not be nearly enough to stop what has started here in Pittsburgh.
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.
2008 NHL PLAYOFFS
After a wild race to the finish, the NHL playoffs are set. Heading into Wednesday's opening night, Scott Burnside previews the first round:
• No. 1 Montreal vs. No. 8 Boston
• No. 2 Pittsburgh vs. No. 7 Ottawa
• No. 3 Washington vs. No. 6 Philadelphia
• No. 4 New Jersey vs. No. 5 New York Rangers
• Vote: What are your first-round picks?