PITTSBURGH, Pa. – The goal he scored was timely, and so was his save. Sidney Crosby’s biggest highlight of all on a night he did it all was the winning goal he created with a bit of dazzling improvisation.
Crosby scored a goal, prevented one and his artful playmaking led to Kris Letang’s winner late in the third period, and the Pittsburgh Penguins rebounded to beat the Ottawa Senators 2-1 on Friday night to even the Eastern Conference first-round series at a game apiece.
“It’s impossible to stop him, especially every night,” Senators coach Cory Clouston said about Crosby, who was shut out on two shots as Ottawa won 5-4 in Game 1. “He was the best player on the ice and he showed what he is able to do. When they needed a goal, he made a big play.”
At least three of them, and it’s why the Stanley Cup champion Penguins are going to Ottawa for Game 3 on Sunday tied at 1, not staring at a daunting 2-0 deficit.
Several minutes after Crosby slid on his stomach across the crease to punch away Anton Volchenkov’s shot as it lay inches from the goal line, Crosby began cycling the puck by himself behind the Ottawa net. Looking for an opening to pass or to dart out and take a shot, he crossed the goalie trapezoid three times before finally carrying the puck out and, sliding to the ice, feeding it to Letang at the right point.
Letang’s shot with 4:12 left beat goalie Brian Elliott, who made 29 saves but didn’t get any support after Peter Regin scored on the Senators’ first shot 18 seconds into the game.
“If I would have missed the net (after what Crosby did), I would feel really bad,” Letang said. “He’s a special player, he’s probably the best in the world.”
Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury shook off Regin’s second goal in two games and a poor first game to turn aside Ottawa’s next 19 shots. With Crosby’s help, of course.
“We had a couple of chances, one laying right on the (goal) line,” the Senators’ Mike Fisher said. “It was right there. Disappointing, but we’re heading back home.”
The Senators, emboldened by their surprise victory Wednesday on the champions’ home ice, got off to the best-possible start ? and the worst for Fleury. On the Senators’ first shift, Jason Spezza controlled the puck along the boards and got it out to Regin, whose shot sailed past Fleury’s outstretched glove and into the net.
With Penguins backup goalie Brent Johnson out with flu-like symptoms, coach Dan Bylsma had to wonder about Fleury’s confidence ? already a concern because of his shaky Game 1. But Fleury, 9-2 in his playoff career following up a game in which he allowed four goals or more, settled down to shut out the Senators the rest of the way.
“We stayed with it, and we saw what happens if we stay with it for 60 minutes,” forward Max Talbot said.
The Penguins tied it slightly more than eight minutes later when Crosby put in a backhander from close range off a rebound of Chris Kunitz’s shot.
Crosby’s super save came with 9:13 remaining, and Ottawa pressing to take the lead.
Volchenkov’s long wrist shot deflected off Fleury and was skittering toward the goal-line before a sliding Crosby punched it away. TV replays didn’t show conclusively if the puck would have crossed the line if Crosby hadn’t touched it. Crosby doesn’t know, and doesn’t want to know.
“Right place, right time,” he said. “I didn’t want to watch it. I know it was close. … It’s a split second, but 8,000 things are rushing through your mind.”
A relieved Fleury said, “The puck was out of my reach and I kind of saw him go by behind me. I said a big, ‘Thank you’ to Sid.”
The game became much more physical than the opener after Ottawa defenceman Andy Sutton levelled defenceman Jordan Leopold with an elbow hit late in the first period. Leopold to lay on the ice for several minutes before being helped to the locker-room and didn’t return to the game. Sutton was not penalized.
“He’s suffering from the hit, and he’ll be evaluated further,” Bylsma said.
Crosby and several other Penguins said Sutton’s elbow was clearly raised, but Sutton disputed that.
“Just a hit like any other hit I’ve been doing this year,” said Sutton, who drew a two-game suspension in January for a hit on the Penguins’ Pascal Dupuis. “I saw that he had his head down and moved toward him, and I think it was a clean hit.”
That play led to several minutes of booing by the crowd of 17,132, Talbot fighting centre Zack Smith after the period ended, and numerous big hits on both sides.
The Senators played without forward Milan Michalek, who is out for the remainder of the playoffs with a torn left knee ligament after reinjuring the knee Wednesday. They were already missing another of their top six forwards, Alex Kovalev, with a similar injury.
Still, they came within inches of winning both games in Pittsburgh.
“Getting a split on a road is pretty good to start the series off,” Elliott said. “We go home and we have a lot of confidence.”
NOTES: The Penguins scratched Ruslan Fedotenko. He scored seven goals in the playoffs last season. … Pittsburgh had 10 shots in the first period, compared to four in Game 1 and finished with 31. … The Penguins’ victory assures there will be another game at 49-year-old Mellon Arena, which they will vacate after this season. Game 5 will be there Thursday night, following Game 4 in Ottawa on Tuesday night.