Pittsburgh Penguins Prevail in Demolition Derby to Tie the Series at One
Lose one game at home in the Stanley Cup playoffs, you lose home-ice advantage. Lose a second game at home and you can nearly kiss any hopes of winning the series good bye.
Despite putting up four goals in Game One with the Ottawa Senators, the defending Stanley Cup champions fell flat, prompting Dan Byslma to make a few changes. Veteran winger Ruslan Fedotenko was pulled in favor of the more physical Mike Rupp, but Marc-Andre Fleury would remain in net nearly by default.
Backup Brent Johnson has been battling the flu.
The puck dropped, the crowd was insane, but wait. Ottawa scores. Only 18 seconds in, Danish 24-year-old Peter Regin beat Fleury over the glove hand to shock the Penguins. That's not how the script was supposed to go.
However, Regin woke up a sleeping giant seemingly as the Penguins upped the hitting, blasting any player wearing red and white that moved.
Chris Kunitz then gave the Senators a taste of their own medicine, shooting the puck for a rebound that bounced right out to Sidney Crosby. Just like that, it was a tie game. But the biggest reaction from the crowd might have been to another incident involving Andy Sutton.
Sutton, who received a two-game suspension earlier in the year for smashing Pascal Dupuis face-first into the end boards, delivered a high elbow to the face of Jordan Leopold. Leopold was briefly knocked out, laying motionless on the ice but was then able to leave the ice under his own power. He did not return and Sutton was not penalized.
The second period went scoreless, but with even more physical play from both sides. Ottawa seemed perfectly willing to shut things down and try to win a 2-1 hockey game, seeing as Brian Elliot was having a tremendous night.
A highlight reel play by Sidney Crosby kept the game even. A shot from Anton Volchenkov got through Fleury and seemed to slide through the blue paint towards the net in slow motion. But at the last possible second, Crosby dove in with a stick to sweep the puck out to prevent the goal.
Not the first time he's made a spectacular save, however.
The breakthrough came with four minutes remaining in the game. Crosby took the puck behind the net, danced around Jason Spezza several times before darting out to make a play from his knees. Finding Kris Letang on the point, the 22-year-old pulled out another huge goal in the playoffs, this time a fairly harmless looking wrist shot that had eyes.
After denying the Senators with the goalie pulled, the Penguins leveled the series before heading to the Canadian capital city on Sunday.
Player ratings are done on a scale from 0 (execrable) to 10 (superhuman).
Marc-Andre Fleury: 5.5. Allowed a goal on an innocent looking shot from the blue line 18 seconds into the contest but sealed everything off after that. He only faced 20 shots total but made the saves he needed to.
Mark Eaton: 6. He saw a five minute jump in ice time from Game One and did everything you could ask of him. Blocked five shots and more importantly was very responsible in the Penguins zone.
Alex Goligoski: 5. Never really got to his game but like nearly every Penguin defenseman, was night and day different from Game One in his own end.
Sergei Gonchar: 4.5. Did not shoot the puck well at all and often hesitated at the point to release where he normally wouldn't even think twice. Gave Peter Regin a little too much space to work with on the Senator goal.
Jordan Leopold: 5. Played six minutes before taking a shoulder to the head from Andy Sutton that knocked him briefly unconscious.
Kris Letang: 8. One of the best games of his career. Played over 23 minutes and contributed all across the board. A physical presence all night, he also did his fair share of shot blocking and moved the puck superbly. Scored what proved to be yet another game-winning goal in the playoffs with four minutes remaining.
Brooks Orpik: 7.5. Forget about any injury that might have been bothering him in Game One. A physical monster all night long delivering a game-high nine hits. Did everything in his power to keep the Senators forwards honest and away from Fleury.
Craig Adams: 6.5. Another solid performance from the gritty fourth liner, who threw his weight around well while cycling the puck proficiently.
Matt Cooke: 5.5. Arguably not as noticeable as fellow pest Jarkko Ruutu but certainly did his job defensively.
Sidney Crosby: 9.5. An MVP-caliber performance from the captain. Delivered another multi-point game, scored his first goal of the playoffs and also set up the game-winner with a dizzying display of puck control as he dragged Jason Spezza all over the ice before hitting a wide-open Letang. But his best play of the game wasn't an offensive one, but instead a downright ridiculous diving save on the goal line to deny Volchenkov a goal.
Pascal Dupuis: 5.5. Seemed a bit out of sorts playing with new line mates, as he has seen most of his time with Crosby instead of Malkin and Ponikarovsky.
Bill Guerin: 6. Made a nuisance of himself in front of Elliot for the majority of the night.
Tyler Kennedy: 5. Didn't see a whole lot of ice time in a very physical game but did his best to get pucks on net whenever he had the opportunities to do so.
Chris Kunitz: 7. Lead tonight's demolition derby alongside Orpik and set up Crosby's goal by simply putting a shot on net. Delivered a few demolishing hits, including a few on Crosby's nemesis Chris Phillips.
Evgeni Malkin: 6. A bit of a down game after lighting up the scoreboard on Wednesday. At times tried to do too much by himself, instead of simply dumping the puck in. But despite not putting up any points, gave the Senators defense fits and continues to be a mismatch not having to see the Phillips-Volchenkov pairing.
Alexei Ponikarovsky: 5.5. Looked much better alongside Malkin this time around and threw pucks at Elliot all game long. Might have scored on a different evening if the Senator netminder wasn't as razor sharp.
Mike Rupp: 5.5. Got in the face of Ottawa players any time he was on the ice including throwing Zach Smith threw the Zamboni doors at the end of the first period. Certainly earned a place in the Game Three lineup after being a healthy scratch on the first time around.
Jordan Staal: 6. Not offensively dominant in any way, but brought his top-notch defensive game to the rink and made life difficult for any player attempting to set up a forecheck in the Penguins end.
Max Talbot: 7. Exactly what you'd expect out of the Superstar. A fight, a forechecking presence and a man that was clearly motivated. Dan Bylsma will need more performances like this out of the Cup hero from a season ago as the series goes on.
Game Three of the series will be played on Sunday evening at Scotiabank Place. The puck drops at 6:30pm Eastern Time.
The Penguins delivered an incredible 52 hits and also nearly tripled the Senators in offensive zone time.
Jordan Leopold did not return to action after the hit from Sutton and his status is unknown. Dan Byslma said after the game that he is "suffering from the hit and will be evaluated tomorrow to see where he's at". However, if he is unable to play, the Penguins have veteran shot-blocker Jay McKee ready to step in if necessary.
I would not expect Sutton to be suspended for any duration for the hit, there was no penalty called on the play and even though you never want to see someone get hurt, it was simply a solid hit to a player in an unfortunate position.
Sidney Crosby now has five points in the playoffs through two games of the series.
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