Game 3 of a series of course brings a change in venue, energy and a chance to turn things around. But for the Pittsburgh Penguins, it was more of the same from Game 2: good forecheck, a lot of hitting, enough scoring, shot-blocking and getting the goalie play to make the saves.
The game's scoring was started just 1:17 in when Alexei Ponikarovsky pulled up from behind the circle, hesitated and then threw an innocent enough looking shot at Brian Elliott. But the shot beat Elliott 5-hole, getting Ponikarovsky out of an extended scoring and playoff scoring slump.
Ottawa would appear to even the score at 1 late in the first period when Peter Regin put the puck by Marc-Andre Fleury from right in front. Upon further review, however, the puck was clearly kicked by Regin and he was unable to touch it with his stick before it disappeared under Fleury. It took a while, but the officials got the call on the play correct.
The Senators would even up the score on a good goal by Mike Fisher on the power play when he took a pass from Regin (who's been the Sens most dangerous forward these playoffs) and beat Fleury 1:53 into the second. This goal seemed to wake the Pens up, who got back to pushing the play in the Ottawa zone and about four minutes later Evgeni Malkin slammed an easy open net after a nice drive right to the goal.
Right before the end of the period Sidney Crosby scored the eventual game winner on the PP when he collected the puck, held it as he skated to his left and rifled a shot home.
Early in the 3rd Bill Guerin put the game out of reach when he took a nice stretch pass from Chris Kunitz and beat a tenative Elliott on a breakaway. Matt Cullen blasted a shot by Fleury on the PP to bring the Senators back within two, but that's as close as they'd come on the scoreboard.
Game 3 Pens, series lead 2-1. For one night, mission accomplished.
- Playoff hockey means hits and thanks to the Ottawa scorer, everyone was in on the act. The Senators registered 46 hits (led by Jarkko Ruutu's 7, with every skater recording at least one) and Pittsburgh had 36 hits (led by Craig Adams' 5 and every players except Malkin and Alex Goligoski getting in on the physical stuff).
- The difference in the series is starting to show in net: Fleury looks steady and comfortable, only bang-bang plays and perfectly placed pucks are eluding him. Elliott is a rookie in untested water and that's starting to show too, with a couple of pucks getting by him that he'd like back.
- Up front the skill mis-match is coming to light as well. Daniel Alfredsson is getting frustrated with physical play: he even left the game for a while when Crosby hit him cleanly in open ice. Alfredsson kneed Brooks Orpik, piled ontop of him with a couple of uncharacteristic cross-checks to the head. Jason Spezza has been basically invisible too, though he did have 3 shots on goal.
- For the Pens, Malkin and Crosby are flying around and though Anton Volchenkov and Chris Phillips are playing well, they aren't keeping the two-headed monster off the scoreboard. Malkin + Crosby have 5 goals, 6 assists in the three games, Spezza + Alfredsson are a combined 0g, 6a (all coming on the same three goals).
- Jay McKee only played 13:28 in his first taste of playoff action this season, but he was a +2 and blocked two shots. The Pens are going to lean on guys like Sergei Gonchar (a game high 25:00 played) and Brooks Orpik (21:17 with 3 hits, 6 blocked shots) but McKee might be able to carry a little more weight, if they give it to him.
- Just as sure as the temperature is rising, Max Talbot is starting to get back on track. Only six forwards played more at even strength than the Superstar, who's gettin time on Malkin's line again and justifying it with production.
- Faceoff circle: Crosby 11 wins, 5 losses (69%); rest of team 10 win, 25 losses (29%). Not good, a guy like Jordan Staal (22% on 18 draws) has to step it up there.
- Malkin blows by Andy Sutton for the second goal, Crosby leaves Sutton in his dust for the third goal....Hmm, maybe the NHL did the Pens a favor by NOT suspending Sutton..
With that, another game is in the books. It was physical, chippy and certainly not easy, but the Penguins prevail and seem to have a stranglehold on the series. Before anyone gets too confident, we need to remember it's still just a 2-1 series lead and only going to take one strong Ottawa game on Tuesday before it's a best of 3 with them having all the momentum.
2 down, 2 to go this series. Now for a team that knows how to win, they must be thinking exactly like I'm thinking: time to step on the throats of the Ottawa Senators, come out next time and look to push them to the brink of elimination.