PITTSBURGH, Pa. – The Ottawa Senators know there is little margin for error if they want to upset the Pittsburgh Penguins.
If they don’t slow down Pittsburgh’s potent power play, they’ll have a difficult time against Sidney Crosby and the rest of the Penguins.
Paul Martin and Chris Kunitz scored power-play goals and Pascal Dupuis added his sixth goal of the playoffs and the Penguins beat the Senators 4-1 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Tuesday.
“We know it’s a good start, but it’s just like the rest of the playoffs we know it’s just the start,” Pittsburgh forward Jarome Iginla said.
A promising one at that.
Evgeni Malkin extended his points streak to seven games with a goal and an assist for the Penguins while Tomas Vokoun stopped 35 shots to win his third straight game since replacing struggling starter Marc-Andre Fleury.
Colin Greening scored for the Senators. Craig Anderson made 26 saves but Ottawa had no answer for Pittsburgh’s power play.
“Their power play is good,” 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.”
It wasn’t in the opener.
The Senators had the NHL’s best penalty kill during the regular season and turned aside 16 of 19 penalties against Montreal in the first round.
Yet they couldn’t stop the Penguins from going 2 for 4 on the power play to improve to 9 of 24 with the man advantage in the playoffs, the best of the eight teams remaining.
“This power play that they have with all those players, they’re dangerous,” Ottawa defenceman Marc Methot said. “Whether we’ve got to play with more discipline, whatever that is, whatever the answer is it’s something we have to focus in on.”
Better hurry up. Game 2 is on Friday night and the Penguins appear to be hitting their stride after needing six games to get by the New York Islanders in the opening round.
“I love the way our team came out and played that game,” Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. “We’re not just counting on one guy to carry a load … we were able to do a lot of good things.”
The 36-year-old Vokoun made his 713th NHL start on Tuesday, but his first with the stakes this big. Despite admitting to some butterflies when told he would get the starting assignment for Game 1, Vokoun overcame some shaky moments early to settle down.
Having the lead most of the night certainly helped.
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.
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.
“The guys worked really hard,” Vokoun said. “They really sacrifice and block shots.”
The pucks bouncing around Anderson weren’t always cleaned up so nicely. Pittsburgh went back to the power play late in the second period and Kunitz stuffed home a rebound off an Iginla shot to give the Penguins a 3-1 cushion.
“When you get a late goal like that late in a period, you like to build on that,” Crosby said.
Dupuis, whose five goals against the Islanders led the team, beat Anderson at the end of a short-handed 2-on-1 breakaway with 8:36 remaining to put it away.
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.