OTTAWA – Sidney Crosby took his already stellar game to another level, and as a result the Ottawa Senators are on the verge of a post-season exit.
Crosby scored twice and set up two more goals Tuesday, leading the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 7-4 victory over Ottawa and a 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference opening-round series.
“You look at him, he?s got fire in his eyes,” Penguins centre Maxime Talbot.
Crosby, who’s been dominant in this series, reached an even higher level than in the first three games and now has 11 points in the best-of-seven matchup.
“On the bench, when it was 4-2, he’s getting intense and he’s like, ‘Hey guys, let?s keep on playing. These mistakes, we can’t allow. We?ve got to be sharper,'” Talbot said. “He’s definitely our leader out there and when you see things that he’s doing out there, it inspires all of us on the bench.”
With Crosby heading the charge, the Penguins jumped out to a 4-0 lead before a sellout crowd of 20,014 at Scotiabank Place, which may have just witnessed their final game in the building for the season.
“We gave them a few too many odd-man rushes and easy goals,” said Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson. “We didn’t find a way to win and dug ourselves a big hole. We?ve just got to regroup and take it to Pittsburgh and, hopefully, we can come back here.”
Thanks to back-to-back wins on the road, Pittsburgh can eliminate the Senators at home on Thursday night.
“I think the numbers this year show that we’re a solid road team,” Talbot said. “Now we’re going back home and it?s going to be another tough test.”
Evgeni Malkin, on the power play, and Matt Cooke also scored against Senators starting goaltender Brian Elliott, who made way for Pascal Leclaire following Crosby’s second goal early in the second period.
The change made little difference, as Chris Kunitz, Talbot and Jordan Staal all beat Leclaire.
The Senators attempted to make a game of it, but couldn’t avoid being pushed to the brink by the reigning Stanley Cup champions.
“Every time Ottawa started to mount a comeback and get back in the game, we were able to get a goal and put our bench at ease,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
Pittsburgh received contributions from many faces. Kunitz added three assists while Marc-Andre Fleury made 26 saves. Sergei Gonchar chipped in with three helpers.
Crosby was undoubtedly the star of the show.
“I feel like I’m creating things, that’s what I want to do,” Crosby said. “I’m just trying to compete every night ? and I’ve been fortunate to have the puck go in and (Kunitz and Bill Guerin) have made some great plays as well, so we’re going to just try to keep that going.”
The one negative for the Penguins was the loss of forward Tyler Kennedy, who left the game with an undisclosed injury in the second period and didn’t return.
For the Senators, Matt Cullen scored once and set up two goals as they managed a couple of power-play markers during 5-on-3 advantages.
Alfredsson and Jason Spezza, who’ve both come under fire for their lack of production so far in the series, each had their first goals and an assist and Chris Neil also scored.
After losing the previous two games, the Senators opted for a lineup change, replacing Ryan Shannon with Jonathan Cheechoo, a former 56-goal scorer who finished his first season with the Senators after a trade from the San Jose Sharks by being demoted to the American Hockey League.
Malkin gave the Penguins the lead on the power play past the midway point of the first period and the Scotiabank Place crowd, dressed mostly in red and armed with white towels to twirl overhead, grew impatient as the period went on.
They began to boo the home side when, with the teams playing four players aside, the Penguins ? and Crosby in particular ? cycled the puck for long periods with the Senators unable to gain possession.
It got worse from there.
Early in the second, a Spezza turnover led to Crosby?s first goal and Cooke added to that just 12 seconds later.
When Crosby snapped a seemingly routine shot inside the far post to make it 4-0 at the 6:12 mark, Leclaire wasted no time in grabbing his mask and heading for the net to replace Elliott.
Neil and Alfredsson cut the lead to 4-2, but Talbot scored a short-handed marker that proved to be the winner as the teams traded goals the rest of the way.
Cullen failed to keep in a clearing attempt at the Penguins? blue-line then failed to contain Talbot, who went to the net and re-directed a pass by Craig Adams behind Leclaire.
?That goal from Max was big and we’re going to have to see that if we’re going to be successful. We need everyone chipping in and we got that,? Crosby said.
Notes: Staal was named Tuesday as a finalist for the Selke Trophy as the NHL?s top defensive forward alongside Detroit?s Pavel Datsyuk and Vancouver?s Ryan Kesler. ? Crosby and Gonchar moved into fifth and 10th place all-time on the Penguins? playoff scoring list, respectively. ? Elliott entered the game with the worst save percentage among all playoff goalies at .868. ? The Senators saluted Canadian Paralympians Jean Labonte (sledge hockey captain) and Karolina Wisniewska and Viviane Forest (both alpine), who were in attendance.