“Those two are one of the best shutdown pairs in the league.” said star teammate Jason Spezza. “They take a lot of pride in what they do.”
Phillips and Volchenkov were assigned to stop Sidney Crosby’s top line in a matchup that went Ottawa’s way in Wednesday night’s 6-3 victory, handing the Senators a 1-0 lead in the first-round, best-of-seven series.
Crosby scored a meaningless goal on the power play with 49 seconds left, but otherwise was largely a non-factor thanks to the terrific work of Phillips and Volchenkov, both of them fresh off signing contract extensions this week. Sid The Kid had only three shots on goal.
“I’ve played against tough defencemen all year,” said Crosby. “They’re a good pairing, there’s no doubt. You can’t take away anything from them, but that’s part of playing hockey. And you have to go against challenges like that.”
Senators head coach Bryan Murray has come to expect that kind of effort from his top defensive pairing.
“They did a really good job tonight,” said Murray. “This is the way they’ve played all year. They’ve been solid throughout.”
Mike Comrie, Chris Neil, Dany Heatley, Tom Preissing, Chris Kelly and Andrej Meszaros scored and the Senators dominated from start to finish. Ray Emery made 23 saves for the win and captain Daniel Alfredsson, who chipped in with an assist, was a force throughout, much to the delight of 19,611 fans at Scotiabank Place who hope this is finally the year after a decade of playoff disappointments.
“When we started out strong, the crowd really rallied behind us, they’ve always supported us,” said Alfredsson, who led the team with eight shots on goal.
Crosby, Sergei Gonchar and Jordan Staal scored for Pittsburgh, which got bottled up by the Senators and rarely threatened.
“We have a lot more to show,” said the 19-year-old Crosby. “And I think for a lot of us it was our first (playoff) game. We aren’t going to use that as an excuse, but we did try to feel it a bit too much instead of initiating the playoff ourselves. … So it’s good we’ve got a couple of days here, we’ll regroup.”
Game 2 goes Saturday (3 p.m. ET). The plan will stay the same for Ottawa – attack, attack, attack.
“The best way to limit them is to keep the puck and attack,” said Murray, whose team outshot Pittsburgh 37-26.
Much has been made of Crosby’s first-ever playoff, but it was also Marc-Andre Fleury’s first foray into the post-season. And it showed early on with first-period jitters, Fleury looking shaky.
The Senators came out buzzing and pinned the Penguins in their end right off the bat, scoring on the second shift of the game at 1:37 when Meszaros hammered a loose puck past Fleury, who tripped himself and was out of position.
“We were really good early, we weren’t nervous,” said Murray. “We had a really good start.”
Fleury was fighting the puck, but then made a huge pad save at the five-minute mark on Christoph Schubert on a Senators’ two-on-one break. He followed that up with a nice glove save off Alfredsson from in-close a few moments later.
But Kelly made it 2-0 at 6:38, slipping a shot between Fleury’s legs after Penguins defenceman Rob Scuderi failed the clear the puck.
So one-sided was the opening period that Ottawa’s fourth line, for example, of Dean McAmmond between Schubert and Patrick Eaves overpowered Pittsburgh’s second line of Evgeni Malkin with Ryan Malone and Mark Recchi, keeping the puck the Penguins zone with a sharp cycle and then drawing a pair of Pittsburgh penalties, handing the Sens a five-on-three power play at 11:09. The Pens did manage to kill it.
The Sens got another two-man advantage late in the period and again weren’t able to score. The Sens outshot the Pens 16-4 in the first period and could have been up by four or five goals, just missing on a number of chances.
Ottawa connected with a one-man advantage with 5:22 to go in the second period, Preissing taking a feed from Jason Spezza and rifling a shot top corner on the glove side from the right faceoff dot.
The Penguins finally woke up down 3-0, pressing the Senators really for the first time in the game and it paid off when Staal poked a loose puck under Emery with 3:02 left in the second period, a goal that brought life to the Penguins bench.
But the Sens came out roaring in the final period, Heatley re-directing Alfredsson’s shot only nine seconds in to restore Ottawa’s three-goal lead at 4-1. It was game over.
Crosby thought he had his first career playoff goal on the very next shift, but a video review ruled it was kicked in and it was disallowed.
Neil made it 5-1 when he scored on a breakaway at 5:39, a goal that came off a Georges Laraque giveaway. Comrie one-timed a nice pass from Peter Schaeffer at 8:22 to make it a laugher at 6-1.
A few shifts later Pens coach Michel Therrien lifted Fleury from the net in favour of Jocelyn Thibault.
Gonchar scored on a two-man advantage at 12:42, while Crosby added a late power-play marker at 19:11 to close out the scoring.
Notes: Joel Kwiatkowski, Chris Thorburn, Ronald Petrovicky, Nils Ekman and Alain Nasreddine were scratches for Pittsburgh, while Lawrence Nycholat, Brian McGrattan and deadline acquisition Oleg Saprykin were left behind by Ottawa … It’s the first playoff series between both clubs although their AHL clubs faced off in the Calder Cup playoffs in 2005 … The Senators are 4-1 all-time in playoff series against Atlantic Division teams, beating New Jersey in 1998, Philadelphia in 2002 and ’03 and the New York Islanders in ’03, losing in the conference final to the Devils in ’03 … It was Pittsburgh’s first playoff game since 2001.