Anton Volchenkov proved that in what may turn out to be a pivotal game.
Volchenkov scored midway through the third period as the Ottawa Senators moved to within one victory of eliminating the Penguins with a 2-1 victory Tuesday night.
The Senators proved they could win a one-goal game when it counts – they lost 22-of-32 such games during the regular season, despite being second in goal scoring. They weathered a dominating second by Pittsburgh, a reversal of the first three games, and remained patient and persistent until getting the winner.
Ottawa takes a 3-1 lead into Game 5 on Thursday night, where the teams split the first two games in the Eastern Conference first-round series.
“Going back home, we want to bury them,” Ottawa’s Jason Spezza said. “We don’t want to come back here and give them life.
“When you get a team on the ropes, you want to try to knock them out.”
The go-ahead goal by Volchenkov came amid an ever-shifting flow in which one team would press for a goal and the other would answer, creating an up-and-down and entertaining game despite the relative lack of scoring.
Mike Comrie took the puck out from behind the net toward the left corner and threw a hard pass to the slot, and Volchenkov blasted a 30-foot shot over goalie Marc-Andre Fleury’s left shoulder. Fleury had dropped to his knees early on the play in anticipation of the pass going toward the crease.
“I don’t score much but I scored a very big goal,” said Volchenkov, who said his only bigger goal was in the world juniors for Russia against Canada. “It was a great, great play, a pass for me . . . and not too much traffic.
“I might be a little bit lucky.”
Volchenkov, a defenceman, scored only once in 78 games during the season and had only one previous playoff goal, four years and a day before scoring his second. He has only nine goals in 229 career regular-season games.
“It was, basically, next goal wins and they got it,” said Crosby, the NHL scoring champion who was held without a goal for the first time in the series. “But every guy in that room can look in the mirror and know he gave an honest effort.
“We showed ourselves, and them, we’re a difficult team to play against. If we take that to Ottawa, we have a chance.”
Pittsburgh, appearing in the playoffs for the first time since 2001, has dropped the fourth game of its last eight playoff series. This time, it was because the Senators quieted Crosby and rookie Evgeni Malkin, who has yet to score despite having 85 points during the season. The Penguins also were 0-for-5 on the power play while Ottawa was 1-for-3 with the man advantage.
“We’re playing the smartest hockey we’ve played in a long time,” Spezza said of a Senators team known for its past playoff failures – nine successive trips to the playoffs without reaching the final. “We don’t care if they’re pretty or if they’re ugly.”
Ottawa won both games in Pittsburgh, where the Penguins have lost 10 of their last 13 playoff games – though none of these players were responsible for those other losses. Pittsburgh has come back from 3-1 deficits before, most recently in 1995 against Washington, but the Senators are 3-0 after they go up 3-1.
“You’ve got to win the next game, that’s the way you look at it. You can’t win three (games) in one (night),” Crosby said. “You win the next one.”
Ottawa’s Ray Emery stopped 23 shots Tuesday and limited them to three goals in the two games in Pittsburgh.
“He was the difference tonight,” Penguins coach Michel Therrien said.
The Senators got off to a fast start, as they have done throughout the series, and took a 1-0 lead with about 3½ minutes gone when Spezza’s intended pass toward the net deflected off Penguins rookie Jordan Staal’s stick and into the net. There has been a goal scored in the opening four minutes of every game.
Ottawa kept pressing for a 2-0 lead for the rest of the period but couldn’t get it, then saw the momentum shift.
“It wasn’t a defensive game,” the Senators’ Chris Phillips said. “Both goalies made tremendous saves.”
The Penguins were outscored 6-1 in the second in the first three games, but was in control throughout this time and got the tying goal about eight minutes in – with Staal scoring this time for his own team.
Michel Ouellet pushed the puck from behind the net toward 40-year-old Gary Roberts, but the 18-year-old Staal got his stick on it and put it past Emery for his third goal of the series. Staal is one of the five youngest players in NHL history to score a Stanley Cup playoff goal.
Notes: The Penguins outshot Ottawa 13-6 in the second period, a reversal of Ottawa’s 44-18 advantage in the first three games, but were outshot 26-24 overall. … The Penguins benched F Erik Christensen, who had 18 goals during the season, for Nils Ekman, who had played only once since March 6. … Ouellet took a key hooking penalty with about 6½ minutes left and the Penguins trying to get the tying goal.