The Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Ottawa Senators 4-3 on Friday night to take a 2-0 lead in their Eastern Conference Semifinal series. As beat writer Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette points out, the Pens have now pinned Ottawa firmly against the ropes:
The Sens struggled through a challenging regular season, where injuries took a serious toll. Two personnel losses were especially tough. Jason Spezza played just five games before suffering a back injury that required surgery, while Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Erik Karlsson was in his 14th game when his Achilles tendon was 70 percent severed by the skate of Matt Cooke.
On the strength of great goaltending from Craig Anderson and better-than-expected play from a cast of young guns straight from the Binghamton farm team, the Senators exceeded expectations by battling to a seventh-place finish in the Eastern Conference, then demolished the Montreal Canadiens in their first-round series.
Ottawa is Canada's last remaining playoff representative, and even Prime Minister Stephen Harper is on the bandwagon:
However, after two games in Pittsburgh, it looks like the clock is about to strike midnight for the Sens. Here's how the series is breaking down.
Pittsburgh took control of Game 1 with its power play, going 2-of-4 while keeping Ottawa off the scoresheet in its five opportunities. In Game 2, things evened out with one power-play goal for each team.
Heading home to Ottawa, the Senators will need to do a near-perfect job of staying out of the box and killing the penalties they do take against Pittsburgh's potent power play.
For the first time in the playoffs, Craig Anderson was chased from his net Friday night after giving up three goals on 21 shots—all to Sidney Crosby. Anderson only surrendered four goals twice in the entire regular season, but in this series, he gave up four in Game 1 and three in 21:15 of Game 2.
Robin Lehner was solid in relief, but since Ottawa can't match Pittsburgh's offensive firepower, it'll have to make up the difference between the pipes if it wants to fight its way back into this series.
Return from Injury
Before Friday's Game 2, Bruce Arthur of the National Post wrote about Erik Karlsson's return from his Achilles injury—impressive, to be sure, but he's not the same player as before he was sidelined.
On Friday, Karlsson appeared to struggle. He was a minus-two on the night, unable to contain Crosby on either of his first two goals. Elliotte Friedman of Hockey Night in Canada also pointed out that his ice time was dramatically lower than the typical 27-minute range that he'd logged in most of the prior games:
Karlsson's drop-off is sudden. If he has aggravated his Achilles or is suffering from another injury, that will be a big blow to Ottawa's prospects heading into Game 3.
On a brighter note, Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun reports that Jason Spezza might be ready to return on Sunday:
Coach Paul MacLean told reporters Spezza is continuing to skate in Ottawa and a decision on whether he'll play or not will be made after Sunday's morning skate. This is the first time that MacLean hasn't completely dismissed Spezza's a return.
Spezza had 22 points in 20 games and starred for the Senators when they went to the Stanley Cup Final in 2007. His big-game experience could provide a real boost as Ottawa returns to home ice.
The Senators made a game out of it on Friday but still came up short. Now in an 0-2 hole, things need to change in a hurry if they hope to extend their series.
Do you think the Senators can mount a push against the powerful Penguins, or are we seeing the last chapters of Ottawa's storybook 2012-13 season? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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