PITTSBURGH, Pa. – The formula for beating the Pittsburgh Penguins is not difficult. It’s the doing it for 60 minutes part that’s tricky.
The Ottawa Senators did everything they thought they needed to do against the Penguins in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Tuesday night. They carried play for long stretches, put steady pressure on Pittsburgh goaltender Tomas Vokoun and mostly stayed out of trouble, taking just three penalties.
Two too many, as it turned out.
Pittsburgh’s thriving power play scored twice to stay red-hot and the Penguins rolled to a 4-1 win. Not bad for a team that continues to tinker with its special teams trying to find the right formula.
Whatever it is at the moment, it’s working.
Paul Martin and Chris Kunitz scored power-play goals as the Penguins improved to 9 for 24 with the man advantage in the playoffs.
“Their power play is good,” Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson said. “We knew that going in and if we want to have good chance to win a game, we’re going to have to shoot down their special teams. It’s huge for them. If we’re able to kill those off, it’s a different game. If we can get a couple power-play goals, it changes momentum.”
Ottawa certainly didn’t in the opener, going 0 for 5 on the power play and surrendering a short-handed goal to Pittsburgh’s Pascal Dupuis in the third.
“If we don’t capitalize on opportunities, they’ll get their goals because there’s a lot of studs on their team,” Ottawa’s Cory Conacher said.
Including Dupuis. The versatile forward now has a league-high six goals in the post-season.
“It’s not just 5-on-5, it’s not just scoring goals,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “He’s an outstanding penalty killer and he did that again tonight. He scored the goal on the PK, but his work on the PK was just as impressive.”
Evgeni Malkin extended his points streak to seven games with a goal and an assist for Pittsburgh, while Vokoun stopped 35 shots for his third straight victory since taking over for struggling Marc-Andre Fleury.
“We did a job on them, but they did have some pretty good scoring chances and flurries on (Vokoun) and I thought he was real strong as the game went on, real solid,” Bylsma said of Vokoun. “One goal against is pretty good.”
Colin Greening scored for the Senators. Anderson made 26 saves, but Ottawa had no answer for Pittsburgh’s power play.
Pittsburgh didn’t need to wait long to get a chance to put the power play to work. Ottawa’s Kyle Turris drew a high-sticking penalty before the game was 90 seconds old, and barely a minute later, Pittsburgh jumped in front.
Malkin worked his way into the corner then threaded a pass between two Ottawa defenders to Martin at the point. Martin’s slap shot from the point deflected off Ottawa defenceman Jared Cowen and scooted past Anderson just 2:41 into the game to give the Penguins an early lead.
“The fact we took a minor penalty on the second shift of the game and put them on the power play put us back on our heels a little bit,” Ottawa coach Paul MacLean said.
The Senators didn’t take long to tie it, evening things at 1 on the kind of soft goal Vokoun had avoided during his two stellar starts against the Islanders.
Ottawa’s Erik Condra won a battle in the corner for the puck, then threw it from behind the goal to the side of the net.
Vokoun, anticipating a crossing pass instead of a shot, found himself out of position. The puck squirted behind him and was inches from the goal line before Greening reached over the goaltender and poked it in.
Malkin responded with his third goal of the playoffs, though his linemates did all the hard work. James Neal poke-checked the puck away from Cowen behind the Ottawa net then fed it to Chris Kunitz.
Kunitz then zipped a pass to Malkin’s awaiting stick just outside the goal crease and all the reigning NHL MVP had to do was tap it in to put the Penguins back in front.
Ottawa, facing the Penguins for the fourth time in the post-season since 2007, had little trouble getting to Vokoun.
They even managed to get the puck by him a few times. Just not into the net. On several occasions, Vokoun would find himself on the ground as the puck skittered through the crease or toward the goal. Each time, it was steered out of danger.
Anderson wasn’t quite so fortunate. Pittsburgh went back to the power play late in the second period and Kunitz stuffed home a rebound off Jarome Iginla’s shot to give the Penguins a 3-1 cushion.
Dupuis then beat Anderson at the end of a short-handed 2-on-1 breakaway with 8:36 remaining to put it away.
“They played a little bit better than we did today and we’ve got to come out better next game and be more prepared,” Ottawa defenceman Erik Karlsson said. “They scored an early goal on us and set us back a bit. We need to just keep improving for every game and we know it’s going to be harder and harder.”
NOTES: The Senators went 0 for 5 on the power play and are just 1 for 17 with the man advantage against Pittsburgh this season. … Vokoun is 13-1 in his past 14 starts. … Iginla’s seven-game point streak in the playoffs is the longest of his career. … Injured Ottawa C Jason Spezza (back) did not travel with the team for Game 1, but has not been ruled out for Game 2.