However difficult the Stanley Cup playoffs might be in your own building, they only get twice as hard traveling into enemy territory. The beehive—also known as Scotiabank Place—would be the site of the Pittsburgh Penguins' newest obstacle.
Despite a late winner in Game Two, the Senators had stolen home-ice advantage from the Penguins in the first game of the series at Mellon Arena. But in the process, both teams had lost a key member of their team—Milan Michalek for the Senators and Jordan Leopold for the Penguins.
A rousing version of the anthems were sung by Lyndon Slewidge, as usual, and the most pivotal game of the series was off.
But just like how the Senators struck in Pittsburgh early on, the Penguins also scored on their first shot of the game. Pascal Dupuis made the play along the wall to spring Alexei Ponikarovsky, who was allowed to set up shop in the left circle uncontested. He waited for anyone to get open in front, but instead opted for the shot to beat Brian Elliot short side.
It was the Ukraine Train's first goal in 11 games.
The Penguins then picked up a pair of power plays halfway through the period, but accomplished next to nothing on either one and still weren't putting many pucks on net.
The Senators then appeared to score when Peter Regin put his third puck past Fleury in as many games. But upon further review, the goal was called back due to a distinct kicking motion to the vast dismay of the Ottawa faithful. It wasn't a first either, as Antoine Vermette (now with Columbus) also had a game-tying goal taken away for a kicking motion back when the two teams met in 2008.
But nevertheless, the Sens got a make up call at the end of the first period, when Jordan Staal was sent off for having his hand slashed by Chris Phillips.
On a 4-on-3 power play to begin the second period, Regin was at it again. While not scoring, he set up Mike Fisher in front of Fleury for the PPG to tie the game up. Not much the goaltender is going to do about that one.
The goal seemed to immediately energize the Senators. They continued to forecheck well, coming inches from scoring a second goal on multiple occasions. But against the play, the Penguins finally won a puck in the defensive end to set Malkin free with Max Talbot. The superstar drove the net hard and bounced a shot off Elliot's pads, which led to an easy empty net goal for Malkin.
A very simple finish for last year's Conn Smythe winner.
The Penguins doubled their advantage late in the period on the power play. Seconds after a 4-on-4, Sidney Crosby found himself on the ice, away from the Phillips-Volchenkov pairing and took only about five seconds to capitalize. After laying a hit on Andy Sutton, he then stole the puck, roared to the front of the net, and simply out-waited Elliot before putting it away.
Not a bright moment in any way for young Erik Karlsson, who put his team down a man after a dumb retaliation penalty on Staal.
The Penguins appeared to have it all sewn up after a breakaway goal four minutes into the third period by Bill Guerin.
Although the Senators did get a consolation power play marker late in the game, this was a team that lost their cool on home ice. Instead of making good in their own building, they gave the momentum and home-ice advantage right back to the Penguins.
Player ratings are done on a scale from 0 (execrable) to 10 (superhuman).
Marc-Andre Fleury: 7. Didn't have to really stand on his head at any point, or make a ridiculous amount of saves. Allowed two goals and there wasn't much he was doing about either, as both were on the power play. Did his best Crosby impersonation to sweep the puck off the goal line, denying Jason Spezza a goal.
Mark Eaton: 6. Did his part in defense by blocking a handful of shots. His best play of the night however was simply keeping Chris Neil away from Letang or Malkin in the second period when the Sens tough guy was looking for a fight.
Alex Goligoski: 5.5. Held without a point for the second straight game but saw a personal series high 21 minutes of ice time. Looked a little unsettled on the power play and was replaced later in the game by Letang.
Sergei Gonchar: 6.5. Rebounded very well after a lackluster performance in Game Two. Played over 25 minutes for the third straight game and looked very comfortable with the puck.
Kris Letang: 6.5. More than a few fans were concerned if the 22-year-old defenseman was worth his pricey new contract. He's proven every critic wrong with some excellent play in the playoffs. Continually helped break up any Ottawa set up in the offensive zone.
Jay McKee: 6. Fit in seamlessly on defense replacing Jordan Leopold. Only saw 13 minutes but went a plus-2, blocked a few shots and brought a stabilizing force on defense.
Brooks Orpik: 7.5. There seemed to be five Brooks Orpiks on the ice at once. He did everything once again, from hitting and blocking shots to penalty kill. Was constantly in the face of Senators, especially Daniel Alfredsson. Even though he took a rather strange penalty with under two minutes to play, there wasn't much more he could have done.
Craig Adams: 5.5. Threw his weight around nicely once again and even moved up to the third line for a short time when Bylsma was sending out the Two Headed Monster.
Matt Cooke: 6. Back in full force after being overshadowed in the previous two games by fellow pests Jarkko Ruutu and Neil.
Sidney Crosby: 8. A third straight multi-point game for the captain. Scored a beautiful power play goal, won 11 of 16 faceoffs, and also dished out a huge hit on Alfredsson that temporarily knocked the veteran out of the game.
Pascal Dupuis: 6.5. Misfired a couple times where he had a good scoring chance, but made a slick passing play to redeem himself along the wall that set up the first goal.
Bill Guerin: 6. The wily vet had a pair of points, including the final goal where Ottawa's defense completely forgot about him and he easily burned Elliot with a nice deke.
Tyler Kennedy: 5.5. A hard-working performance and it seemed at times that he just had an extra gear to go to that no Senator could match.
Chris Kunitz: 5.5. A relatively quiet night for the heatseeking missile, but did make the pass that sent Guerin in on a breakaway.
Evgeni Malkin: 5. Not the world's finest defensive performance. In fact, he was caught sleeping in the Penguins' zone on more than one occasion. He lost all three faceoffs he took and was even moved to winger on Crosby's line at times. However, he did poke in a rebound for the second goal.
Alexei Ponikarovsky: 6. Scored the opening goal only a minute into the hockey game but was very quiet after that. Didn't see much playing time as special teams played a large part, but his role should increase in Game Four.
Mike Rupp: 5. Logged seven minutes of mostly eventless ice time.
Jordan Staal: 5. Terrorized in the faceoff circle all night and was sent to the sin bin after the first period for being slashed. A solid job defensively, as usual, but the Penguins will need some more offense out of him in the future.
Max Talbot: 7. Maybe not playing much in the regular season actually was good for him. Seemed to cause problems in many ways and deserves full credit for setting up Malkin's goal. Byslma is surely hoping that Talbot can play his way back onto Malkin's line, where he played most of last spring.
Game Four of the series will be played at Scotiabank Place. The puck drops at 7:00 pm Eastern Time.
The Penguins improved to 8-2 in Game Threes under Sidney Crosby's leadership. The only losses in that span came last year in Philadelphia and in the 2007 round with the Senators.
Crosby now leads the playoffs with seven points in his first three games. Malkin, the 2009 points leader, has four to date.
Marc-Andre Fleury has now started 52 consecutive playoff games and only allowed one even-strength goal in the last 130 minutes of hockey.
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