It may not have been a sure thing all the way through, but with a 5-4 victory in their first round playoff series with the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Ottawa Senators have taken a 1-0 series lead, and taken home-ice advantage away from the Penguins. As is the tendency with NHL coaches and players, the cliches are likely to fly from the winning dressing room after Wednesday’s win, but they will also ring true. Someone is bound to say “it wasn’t pretty, but it was a win,” while some other sage will likely remark some form of “when you start the series on the road, you just want to make sure you go home with a win.” And in this case, both things are true.
The win was far from a pretty one for the Senators, who led the game most of the way, but at several moments, looked poised to let it all slip away any time. The game got off to a bad start when Peter Regin took a bad hooking penalty at 2:50 of the first period. It took only 13 seconds for Evgeni Malkin to capitalize on the advantage, and put the Pens up in the game very early. Through the first few minutes of the game, the Senators (several of whom were competing in their first NHL playoff game) looked nervous, and out of place.
But after some early jitters, the first period definitely swung in momentum, and belonged to Ottawa; as Regin atoned for his earlier penalty, and scored his first career playoff goal to tie the game at 8:45 of the first. The Sens continued to press, and were rewarded at 14:08 of the first, as Chris Neil put his team ahead 2-1. By the end of the first period, the Senators led 2-1 on the scoreboard, 11-4 in shots, and would go into the second with a man advantage after Alexei Ponikarovsky took a penalty with 28 seconds left in the first for slashing Erik Karlsson’s stick in half.
That momentum for Ottawa carried over into the second period when Chris Kelly capitalized on a bad rebound given up by Marc-Andre Fleury, and gave his team a two goal lead as time died down on Ponikarovsky’s penalty.
Pittsburgh answered back later in the second, however, as Sergei Gonchar would find Evgeni Malkin to the side of Ottawa’s net with a pass from the point for Malkin’s second goal of the game. The goal would come on the powerplay, with Peter Regin in the box for his second ill-advised penalty of the game; this one a holding call.
It would remain a one-goal game for less than three minutes, as Ottawa’s powerplay would answer back, and make it 4-2. With Matt Cooke sitting for a charging call, Erik Karlsson pounced on a Mike Fisher rebound for his second point of the game in an excellent playoff debut for the young defenseman.
Two goal leads proved troublesome for Ottawa throughout the game, as Pittsburgh once more got back into the game on a Craig Adams goal early in the third. Another chance at preserving such a lead would come at 9:40 of the third, when Jarkko Ruutu received a Chris Neil pass on a two-on-one, and ripped a wrist shot past Fleury for the 5-3 lead. Alex Goligoski scored at the 17:36 mark to make it interesting again, but he could only get Pittsburgh back to within one, and the 5-4 score would hold up as the final, despite pressure from the Penguins until the final seconds.
After game one, both teams should clearly be able to see areas of improvement. Neither team’s goaltender played up to his full potential, and goals ended up in both nets that probably shouldn’t have. For Ottawa, improvements must be made in shutting down their opponents to hold onto a lead. Three times, the Sens held a two goal lead, only for it to be erased by a Penguins’ goal. Ottawa played a tough physical game, and leaned on their opponents in the way they will need to in order to win the series. Jarkko Ruutu’s ‘Superpest’ act was played nearly to perfection, and already appears to be getting under the Penguins’ skin. Several Ottawa players played on the edge in similar fashion, but they have to be careful not to cross the line, and end up in the penalty box. Pittsburgh scored two powerplay goals, and showed the Sens how dangerous they can be with the man advantage. However, they did not do all that is needed to contain the Penguins’ top players, as Sidney Crosby, and Evgeni Malkin finished the game with three points apiece.
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