PITTSBURGH – One game into their Stanley Cup defence, the Pittsburgh Penguins already have been reminded that consistency and determination can be as important as star power in winning a playoff round.
The Ottawa Senators lack players with the offensive skills and post-season portfolios of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal. They do possess a sound game plan, excellent defencemen and a commitment to make an Eastern Conference first-round series that was supposed to be a Penguins walkover into an extended, difficult-to-win round.
Deep down, the Penguins probably expected their true challenges to come in later rounds against Washington and/or New Jersey, teams they didn’t defeat once this season. The Senators’ surprise 5-4 victory in Game 1 changed all that.
Game 2 on Friday isn’t necessarily a must-win game for the Penguins, who came back from 2-0 deficits twice while winning the Stanley Cup last spring. But it’s as close as it gets.
“We didn’t come in here expecting to win four straight,” Crosby said Thursday. “It’s going to be a tough series. If anything, (the) last game should motivate us even more. We hadn’t played Ottawa for a long time. We have a history with them in the playoffs, and I don’t think that the element of not liking them was really there enough. That’s definitely there now.”
Maybe, too, a heightened sense of awareness that nothing is guaranteed in the playoffs. Even to defending champions.
“The desperation level and the urgency level, they were better in that department,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “They were very good in that regard. We have to get to that right now. If them beating us in our building in Game 1, that hatred and that desperation had better be enough to bring to Game 2, and we’d better be ready to get to our game. We should have it right now with how they played, and how they played against us.”
The Penguins know they need more shots from Crosby, who got off only two in Game 1. They need better goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury, who allowed several questionable goals. They need Malkin to play with the drive and purpose he showed while scoring twice, giving him seven goals in his last five games against Ottawa.
They need more across the board from players who perhaps learned again that the kind of inconsistency that can be written off during a long season can cause considerable grief during a playoff series.
“They played better than we did and they won,” defenceman Brooks Orpik said. “We move on.”
The Senators want to keep doing what they did in Game 1: Make it difficult for the Penguins to get into the offensive zone. Throw a defensive blanket on Crosby with defencemen Anton Volchenkov and Chris Phillips. Create a sense of nervousness among the Penguins – and their fans – that they won’t go down easily.
“We know who he is and we know what he’s capable of,” Senators forward Erik Karlsson said of Crosby, who has two goals in 17 regular season games against Ottawa. “You just try to take his time and space away and make him do some things from difficult positions. I think we did a great job of that.”
Winning a series is much harder than winning a single game, and the Senators’ task got a little tougher when forward Milan Michalek was lost for the rest of the season with a torn left knee ligament. He aggravated an existing injury during Game 1. The Senators previously lost top six forward Alex Kovalev (knee).
The Penguins made one move during practice, shifting Ruslan Fedotenko off Malkin’s line, replaced by Pascal Dupuis. Fedotenko was a season-long disappointment with 11 goals, but often plays his best during the playoffs.
Backup goaltender Brent Johnson sat out with what Bylsma said were flu-like symptoms and, as a precaution, goalie Brad Thiessen was called up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL).
For now, the bigger worry is Fleury, who has permitted three goals or more in 13 of his last 19 games.
“He is a guy who bounces back and is ready the next time he’s in the net, and that’s definitely something we’re going to need from him in Game 2,” Bylsma said.