OTTAWA – It’s textbook media training for hockey players: don’t utter a word about the next round of the playoffs until you have all four games of your current series in the bag.
It’s a lesson Sidney Crosby has apparently learned well.
“I’m not talking about anything ahead of Game 5,” was all the Pittsburgh Penguins captain would say when asked about a potential Eastern Conference final against, likely, the Boston Bruins.
But after Wednesday night’s 7-3 blowout of the Ottawa Senators, it’s hard to imagine Crosby and his teammates aren’t starting to think about their next trip to Beantown.
Pittsburgh now holds a 3-1 series lead heading into a pivotal Game 5 at home on Friday.
The Penguins didn’t just beat the Senators in Game 4 of their semifinal series. They obliterated them.
For a time—until, say, Pittsburgh’s four-goal romp in the third period—it looked like Ottawa might make this a series.
The Senators got on the scoreboard early in the first period—and just like Sunday’s double-overtime marathon win in Game 3, they did it the hard way.
With defenceman Sergei Gonchar in the penalty box, Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson fed the puck up the middle to a streaking Milan Michalek, who broke through the Penguins defence and beat Tomas Vokoun low on the glove side to put Ottawa up 1-0.
It was the first time Ottawa has led this series. But it wouldn’t last.
A hot goalie can only take a team so far, and any team that lets the star-studded Penguins shoot at will is bound to eventually give up a goal.
That’s exactly what happened when Ottawa lost a face-off in its own end and James Neal was there to pick up the loose puck. He fired a shot into the back of the net to tie the game at one goal apiece.
The pesky Sens, as the Twitter hash tag goes, battled back. Kyle Turris swept the puck past a sprawling Tomas Vokoun to put Ottawa ahead once more.
It was the last time the Senators would have more goals on the scoreboard than Pittsburgh.
Chris Kunitz snuck behind the Senators’ defence and put one past Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson. Less than a minute later, a rebound landed right on the tape of Jarome Iginla’s stick and he made it 3-2 Penguins.
Ottawa got a lot of chances in the latter half of the second period. Unfortunately for the Senators, none got by Vokoun. The Penguins netminder ended the night with 30 saves.
After that, it was all Pittsburgh. Neal, Pascal Dupuis, Crosby, Iginla—boom, boom, boom, boom. Four Penguins goals in the third period put the game out of reach for Ottawa.
Senators coach Paul MacLean pulled Anderson after he let in six goals on 38 shots. Anderson’s replacement, Robin Lehner, allowed one goal on four shots.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said the firing-range approach was the only way his team was going to beat Anderson.
“There was a sense like, ‘OK, this might take as many shots as we can muster to break this guy.’ And fortunately, we kept on that mindset,” Bylsma said.
“It was a matter of, we are going to have to fire anything and everything we can at this guy to get one by him.”
Alfredsson marked a bittersweet milestone by notching his 100th career playoff point with a power-play goal late in the third period to make it 7-3. It was too little, too late.
Only twice before have the Senators given up seven goals in a playoff game: against the Buffalo Sabres in 2006 and against the Penguins in 2010.
Over in the Senators’ dressing room, the players were taking another page from hockey talk 101: put on a brave face when facing almost certain elimination.
“I know what we’re going to do,” Alfredsson said.
“We’re going to go out and play one hell of a game. That doesn’t worry me at all. We never quit and that’s not going to stop now. We know the odds are against us in every way, but we never quit and that’s going to continue.”
Said defenceman Chris Phillips: “It’s not where we want to be, but that’s where we are.”
MacLean imparted a final lesson after the game: when you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
The Senators coach tersely told journalists to look at the scoresheet before leaving the room without taking any questions.