Best of Three: Why The Pittsburgh Penguins Defeated Ottawa in Round One

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Best of Three: Why The Pittsburgh Penguins Defeated Ottawa in Round One
Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images

It might not have been pretty. It certainly wasn't how Dan Bylsma envisioned the evening going. But the Penguins managed to prevail in Game Six at Scotiabank Place despite falling behind 3-0 early on. 

Thanks to Pascal Dupuis, the Penguins have booked a trip to the Eastern Conference Semifinals once more, but their opponent is unknown. While they wait for the Bruins, Sabres, Flyers or Canadiens, the team has a few days to rest up and try to get healthy again. 

So let's look back at the series that was with the Ottawa Senators. A best-of-three if you will, as the two teams had also met in 2007 and 2008. 

 

Game One - Ottawa 5, Pittsburgh 4

Penguins Player of the Game: Evgeni Malkin (69.6%); 2 goals, 1 assist, even , 4 SOG.

Best Moment: Down two goals and running out of time, Captain Sidney Crosby took the puck behind Brian Elliot's cage and continued to battle. Making a no-look behind the back pass, he put it right on the stick of Alex Goligoski, who then in turn played his part and launched a wrist shot to the only quarter-inch of netting Elliot didn't have covered.

Why the game was Lost: Goaltending and defense are the two biggest aspects of the Stanley Cup playoffs. If a team doesn't have them both, they probably won't be going to far.

The Penguins didn't have either in Game One as Marc-Andre Fleury allowed multiple goals he'd like back while the defense in front of him did a horrific job preventing Ottawa players from getting great scoring chances.

Ottawa 1, Pittsburgh 0.

 

Game Two - Pittsburgh 2, Ottawa 1

Penguins Player of the Game:  Sidney Crosby (87.0%); 1 goal, 1 assist, 5 SOG, 13-of-19 faceoffs won.

Best Moment: Again, it was Crosby. Doing figure-eights behind the Ottawa goal while dragging Jason Spezza with him every inch of the way, Crosby put on a show late in the game before emerging on his knees. With everyone on both teams entirely mesmerized by his antics, he fed the puck out to Kris Letang, who promptly beat Elliot with a quick wrist shot. 

Why the game was Won: Intensity. Everywhere the Penguins lacked in the first game, they made up for it the second time around. They registered a monstrous 52 hits, got to their game and played a very solid defensive game, severely limiting any chances Ottawa had.

After the first goal, allowed on the first shot, the Penguins and Marc-Andre Fleury shut everything down and after Crosby scored to tie the game, it really seemed like only a matter of time before the Mighty 'Guins got a second. They just had to wait a little longer than expected due to fine play from Elliot.

Series tied, 1-1.

 

Game Three - Pittsburgh 4, Ottawa 2

Penguins Player of the Game: Sidney Crosby (77.8%); 1 goal, 1 assist, plus-1, 11-of-16 faceoffs won .

Best Moment:   Not to sound redundant, but it's No. 87 again. Up 2-1 with just seconds left in the second period, Crosby laid a hit on Andy Sutton in the corner, relieved him of the puck, then danced out in front of the Ottawa goal to simply out-wait Elliot before scoring the eventual game-winner.

The one moment, directly following 4-on-4 play, the Senators could not get their shut down pairing of Phillips and Volchenkov on the ice fast enough and Crosby immediately exploited the second-string unit.

A case could also be made for Malkin, who scored completely against the run of play. Ottawa was dominated possession in the Penguins zone and seemed to have Malkin's line pinned, but as all great offensive players can do, a simple turnover leads to catastrophe for the tired Senators.

Why the game was Won: The Penguins played a textbook road game. They got an early lead, played excellent defense again, and always found a way to weather the storm when Ottawa appeared to gain momentum. 

Marc-Andre Fleury also played his best game of the series, only allowing two power play goals that he really had no chance to stop on either occasion. He didn't face a ton of rubber either, but the defense in front of him helped dramatically by blocking a lot of shots.

Pittsburgh 2, Ottawa 1.

 

Game Four - Pittsburgh 7, Ottawa 4

Penguins Player of the Game: Sidney Crosby (86.0%); 2 goals, 2 assists, plus-3, 4 SOG.

Best Moment: Where to start? There were eight goals scored in the second period alone, but one stands out far more than others. In the playoffs, shorthanded goals will be back-breakers nearly 100 percent of the time.

After the Senators turned a 4-0 deficit into just a two-goal hole, they got a chance on the power play to get within one.

Not on Max Talbot's watch. Craig Adams came out of the zone with the puck and weaved his way through defenders.

Then just when it looked like he was running out of real estate on the wall, he somehow picked out Talbot charging to the net and the Superstar managed to one-hand the puck behind Elliot.

Why the game was Won: It was a game the Senators couldn't afford to play, but they did anyway. Down 2-1 in the series and needing a win on home ice, Cory Clouston felt the need to get away from his stout defensive system in favor of taking more chances.

The Penguins were more than happy to play run-and-gun offense with Ottawa, putting seven goals behind the goaltending duo of Elliot and Pascal Leclaire.

They scored on turnovers (Crosby's first, thanks to Spezza), on the power play, shorthanded, and on created mistakes (Kunitz from Crosby).

Pittsburgh 3, Ottawa 1.

 

Game Five - Ottawa 4, Pittsburgh 3 (Triple Overtime)

Penguins Player of the Game: Sidney Crosby; 1 goal, 2 assists, plus-2, 8 SOG.

Best Moment: It looked so good. With 11 minutes remaining in regulation, Crosby pulled off arguably his finest goal of the playoffs yet, beating Leclaire while sliding across the ice on his back. It gave the Penguins a lead for the first time all night and it looked like it could quite possibly be the series winner. 

That didn't follow the script however, but how many times in the Stanley Cup playoffs does it really?

Why the game was Lost: Pascal Leclaire and utter desperation from Ottawa. The new netminder wanted to impress, and he didn't disappoint.

In fact, he made Clouston look like a genius for selecting him over Elliot, when it was Elliot who guided the Senators this far. But Leclaire made 56 saves and rejected the Penguins power play repeatedly. 

The Senators also had no plans of ending their season this quickly, and they truly played like there was no tomorrow. It didn't matter how long it took, they had the mindset that they were going to get the game-winner sooner or later.

Pittsburgh 3, Ottawa 2.

 

Game Six - Pittsburgh 4, Ottawa 3 (Overtime)

Penguins Player of the Game: Matt Cooke (51.9%); 2 goals, plus-3, 2 SOG, 2 hits.

Best Moment: How could it be anything else? Half way through the first overtime period, Selke finalist Jordan Staal took the puck on the forecheck against Shean Donovan. Staal then found line mate Pascal Dupuis coming off the wall and hit him with a perfect pass.

A quick shot gave Dupuis his first goal of the Stanley Cup playoffs but more importantly, the series winner as he sprawled to the ice. 

Why the game was Won: Grit and determination. It wasn't the stars that won the game, but the grinders and role players. Getting contributions from the oldest member of the team in Bill Guerin to its youngest in Jordan Staal, would it have been better any other way?

The Penguins knew that they couldn't keep relying on Crosby to do everything all playoffs. So when the team needed them the most, unheralded Matt Cooke and Pascal Dupuis made it happen when the series almost looked surely headed for a seventh game after the Penguins fell behind 3-0.

Pittsburgh 4, Ottawa 2.

 

Player Ratings (Average)

1. Sidney Crosby: 8.00

2. Evgeni Malkin: 6.50

3. Brooks Orpik: 6.42

-. Max Talbot: 6.42

5. Kris Letang: 6.33

6. Chris Kunitz: 6.25

7. Bill Guerin: 6.08

 

Five Things We Learned

1. There is nothing Sidney Crosby cannot do. He constantly went head-to-head with arguably one of the best shut down defensive pairings in the entire NHL, and all he did was put up 14 points in six games. He will score big goals, win big faceoffs, set up teammates while making it look easy, and yes, he even dished out big hits as Daniel Alfredsson learned.

2. In the playoffs, the Penguins are a better road team than they are at home. It's not so much that the team is 3-0 on the road and just 1-2 at home. But it dates back to a season ago, and they have now won five straight playoff series away from home. Whether the team feeds off the opposing crowd or just simply love playing on the road, they apparently feel no pressure whatsoever going into an unfriendly building.

3. Sergei Gonchar is still an extremely valuable piece to the team. No, he might not be as solid defensively as he used to be. Thanks to the fine offensive play, the Penguins power play operated at 25 percent for the series and a large part of that was Gonchar's doing. He is currently tied for the league lead for points by a defenseman in the playoffs and boasts an impressive plus-7 mark.

4. You're only as good as the depth on the roster. Twice in the series, the Penguins lost an important player to injury. First was Jordan Leopold, then Tyler Kennedy. While the timetable for their return is still unknown, their replacements (Jay McKee and Chris Conner) came in and did an excellent job. They needed depth a year ago to win the Cup and they'll need everyone once again.

5. Never doubt Marc-Andre Fleury. He is a big-time playoff performer. His eight playoff series wins is by far the top of any goaltender remaining. There's no substitute for experience and Fleury just oozes of it and gave the Penguins a chance to come back on multiple occasions, including Game Six.  

 

Forward march!

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