Game Four of a series is usually a must-win game for both teams. Unless it's a 3-0 advantage, chances are it will decide the series winner. That was exactly the mindset of both the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators before the fourth game of the series at Scotiabank Place.
For the Penguins, a win would give the defending Cup champions a commanding 3-1 lead heading back to Pittsburgh.
For the Senators, a win would allow them to tie up the series at two apiece, forcing a best of three for the semifinals.
The game began exactly as one might have expected, with the Senators playing with a ton of emotion. Except referee Brad Meier deemed it to be too much emotion, as Chris Neil, Chris Kelly, and Max Talbot were all sent to the sin bin six minutes into the game.
The ensuing Pittsburgh power play proved to be uneventful, but Brian Elliot made a number of fine stops to bring the home crowd to their feet. Just a couple minutes after a successful kill however, the Senators were heading back to the box when stellar penalty killer Anton Volchenkov was sent off.
His absence proved to be a devastating blow, as the Penguins passed the puck around nicely and got yet another goal from Evgeni Malkin. Malkin was set up on the left side of Elliot and Sergei Gonchar found him wide open after faking out a defender down low.
Although the Senators would get a late power play, nothing happened for them and the period finished with the Penguins dominating play, outshooting the home side 14-6.
Sidney Crosby and the Penguins then stepped back onto the ice for what would be an absolutely wild second period. The period started out slow, but Crosby and Chris Kunitz eventually broke in on Volchenkov and even though the Russian blueliner took Kunitz out, he did enough to slide a pass over to Crosby.
We all know what happens next. Sid scores five hole on Elliot, 2-0 Penguins.
Just like that, the Penguins win the following faceoff, pour right back into the Ottawa zone, and get yet another goal 12 seconds later. This time, it's Matt Cooke from Max Talbot, beating Elliot with an innocent looking shot.
Two minutes later, Crosby scored again, this time beating Elliot from distance on a shot that he really needed to stop. Cory Clouston had apparently seen enough and immediately gave him the hook in favor of Pascal Leclaire. His team was shell-shocked and committing error after error.
It did some good for his team though, as they responded with two quick goals to the delight of the Ottawa faithful. All of a sudden, it was the Penguins on their heels and Clouston's men with all the momentum. To make matters worse, the Penguins would be going on the penalty kill with Selke finalist Jordan Staal heading to the box.
What time is it? Talbot time.
A shorthanded goal for the Superstar as the Senators get too comfortable up a man was not the start Leclaire wanted.
The Sens would get it right back however with a 5-on-3 goal by Matt Cullen. Perfect passing, perfect execution, and absolutely nothing Marc-Andre Fleury was going to do about that one.
Penguins up 5-3.
Sidney Crosby had seen enough. Taking matters into his own hands before the end of the period, he took a rebound behind the net and made another no-look backhand pass to a wide open Kunitz. While Kunitz was snake bit a season ago in the playoffs, he made no mistake about that one and easily buried it.
A power play goal by each team in the third period finished off the scoring, as the game seemed to switch over to brawling. Chris Neil and Jarkko Ruutu and Co. stepped to center stage, trying to get a piece of any Penguin possible, a la the Philadelphia Flyers, but to no success whatsoever.
Three Senators received 10 or more penalty minutes—Neil, Ruutu, and Matt Carkner—further proving that they haven't got a clue what their identity is. What was once a defensively airtight unit to begin the series, has quickly morphed into a goon squad that seems far more interested in landing hits or punches than scoring goals.
Player ratings are done on a scale from 0 (abysmal) to 10 (superhuman).
Marc-Andre Fleury: 5. Gave up four goals, but two of those came on a 5-on-3 for the Senators. Couldn't have done much about Alfredsson's wicked slap shot that made it 4-2 and despite facing 30 shots, never had to make a truly spectacular save.
Mark Eaton: 5. Nothing special from him, but did see a little more power play time than he normally would.
Alex Goligoski: 5.5. A decent performance. Needed to hit the net more when shooting, had open lanes on multiple different occasions a man up, and just couldn't force Elliot/Leclaire to make a save. Did set up Jordan Staal's power play goal in the third period.
Sergei Gonchar: 7.5. The veteran rearguard posted a three point night, assisting on three of the Penguins first four goals. Didn't play much in the final stanza as the Senators sent out the goon squad in full force, but has six points and a plus-5 rating in the series.
Kris Letang: 6. Mostly solid defensively, but couldn't have hit the starboard side of an aircraft carrier with a slap shot if his life depended on it. Had an early 3-on-1 situation thanks to a disgusting pass from Crosby and missed the net completely.
Jay McKee: 6.5. In a game that featured 11 total goals, he was one of the few defensive players on either side that made a difference. Blocked a game high four shots and has done a great job in his own end since replacing Jordan Leopold.
Brooks Orpik: 5.5. Registered five hits and went plus-two, but something didn't seem right about him. Maybe the fact that the nature of the game was very offensive-minded and all the penalties prevented him from finding a true groove.
Craig Adams: 6.5. Despite allowing two power play goals, he honestly did a clean job down a man. A workmanlike effort as well to set up Max Talbot's shorthanded tally.
Matt Cooke: 6. Scored a back-breaking third goal just 12 seconds after Crosby. A pest as usual and did his best to force mistakes from the Senators.
Sidney Crosby: 9.5. What can't he do? A fourth straight multi-point game in the playoffs and leads the NHL with 11.
Pascal Dupuis: 5. Not his strongest game and he hasn't exactly had the postseason he hoped for after a very solid regular season. Tried his best to make things happen so you can't blame him for a lack of effort, just didn't have the final result.
Bill Guerin: 6. Made it happen once again in front of the net on the power play, finished as a plus-three but mostly had the luxury of watching the Crosby Show.
Tyler Kennedy: 5. Left the game early in the second period with an apparent leg injury, thanks to none other than Andy Sutton. His status for Game Five is questionable and Ruslan Fedotenko would step back in if needed after being a healthy scratch the last three nights out.
Chris Kunitz: 8.5. A very productive three point night. Made Crosby's first goal possible with a diving pass, also started the play on the Captain's second goal. Capped off a great night with a goal of his own, assisted by Crosby, to give the Penguins a 6-3 lead.
Evgeni Malkin: 7. Found himself on the scoreboard for the third time in four games with his league-leading fourth goal of the playoffs. Brian Elliot must be seeing his one-timer from the left side in his nightmares. Peppered nine shots total on Ottawa netminders and was a true physical force for really the first time in the series.
Alexei Ponikarovsky: 5.5. Again didn't see a whole ton of ice time, as there were a ton of power plays to go around on both sides. But, picked up a point in the second straight game and should continue to be an asset to the Penguins as the playoffs go on as he will be well rested.
Mike Rupp: 6. Mainly deployed any time the action got heated or to combat the Ruutu/Neil combination.
Jordan Staal: 7. Physical, skilled, and played like a true Selke finalist. Won 11 faceoffs including a number in the defensive zone. Applied the icing to the cake with a seventh goal, matching his power play goal total from the regular season.
Max Talbot: 7.5. The playoffs are indeed Talbot's time. Scored shorthanded and set up Matt Cooke's goal, even won 80 percent of his draws. Forget the regular season—he's the gamer.
Game Five of the series will be back at the Mellon Arena on Thursday night. The Penguins will have the opportunity to put the series away on home ice.
Sidney Crosby's four points on the night matched his career high for a playoff game. The other time he managed the feat was also against the Senators, back in 2008.