We’re No. 2 and We Try Harder.
The popular catchphrase, once the hub of a clever ad campaign run by Avis Rent-A-Car in its war with giant rival Hertz, seemed an altogether appropriate theme for the Penguins’ disappointing 2-1 overtime loss to Ottawa last night.
Assuming the role of Avis, the Senators outskated, outworked…heck…pretty much out everythinged the black and gold in the Eastern Conference Final opener.
Indeed, for the majority of the evening, the Pens—with the notable exceptions of Evgeni Malkin and Bryan Rust—appeared to be dragging personal anchors around the PPG Paints Arena ice surface. Even our captain, Sidney Crosby, was practically invisible, a rare occurrence indeed.
Our guys hit goal posts, misfired on passes, turned the puck over (a grisly 17 giveaways) and mostly shot center mass in disjointed one-and-done fashion on Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson, who stopped 27 shots to earn star of the game honors.
The Senators and their nettlesome 1-3-1 trap no doubt had a little something to do with it. In stark contrast to the Pens, who looked very much a like team that couldn’t press the reset button quickly enough following an arduous seven-game set with the Capitals, the visitors came ready to play.
While the home team struggled to get up to game speed, muffing an early 5-on-3 power play, Ottawa struck on a nice bit of work by the eventual No. 2 star, Bobby Ryan. The native of Cherry Hill, New Jersey (a Philly suburb) pounced on a dead-fish giveaway by defenseman Brian Dumoulin behind the Pens’ net and fed a beautiful, no-look backhand pass to a circling Jean-Gabriel Pageau. The feisty Sens center wasted little time, roofing a one-timer to the short side on goalie Marc-Andre Fleury for his eighth goal of the playoffs.
Although the bounces for the most part went the other way, the Pens did receive a welcome dose of good fortune late in the second period. Fleury appeared to smother Alexandre Burrows’ follow-up of a Fredrik Claesson wraparound before inexplicably moving his left pad off the post. The puck clearly slipped over the goal line before the whistle blew, but a referee ruled the play dead to negate any challenge from the Ottawa bench.
The 18,614 in attendance finally had reason to cheer with 5:35 left in regulation play. Ron Hainsey chipped the puck into the Senators’ end, then hustled in deep to retrieve it. A millisecond before he was flattened along the end boards by Ottawa’s Marc Methot, the veteran defenseman settled the puck for Chris Kunitz. “Kuny” circled out of the corner and fired a no-look shot toward the net. Malkin cut in front of Anderson, spun and deflected the puck through the five hole, to the delight of the capacity crowd.
Shortly after Fleury made a game-saving pad save on Kyle Turris near the 17-minute-mark, Phil Kessel had a chance to snatch the lead for the locals. His shot rang off the crossbar, setting the stage for overtime.
Unfortunately, the Pens fell like a perfectly positioned stack of dominos. Five minutes into the extra frame, Pageau beat Crosby on a draw in the Sens’ end. Rookie Jake Guentzel lost an ensuing puck battle to Erik Karlsson, who flipped the rubber up the boards.
Justin Schultz pinched aggressively in an effort to intercept the clearing attempt. Mark Stone banged into the Pens’ defender, causing the puck to pop loose. Pageau poked it away from Crosby and past a corkscrewing Rust to Ryan, who set sail for the Penguins’ zone. Ryan blew past Olli Maatta and roofed a nifty backhander over Fleury to the blocker side to settle the proceedings.
Did I mention that Ryan was taken immediately behind Crosby in the 2005 Entry Draft? Yes, he was the No. 2 overall pick.
Ottawa held an edge in most statistical categories, including shot attempts (61-56), shots on goal (35-28), hits (32-27), blocked shots (22-14) and faceoffs (36-35).
The Penguins were 0-for-5 on the power play. The Senators were 0-for-2.
Malkin (No. 3 star) and Rust led the locals with four shots on goal each. Kessel had three. Crosby and Kunitz topped the team with four hits apiece. Nick Bonino enjoyed a strong game in the faceoff circle, winning 10 of 12 draws. Fleury made 33 saves.