Penguins defense, Fleury collapse in blowout loss to Senators in Game 3
OTTAWA — The tale of the first month of the Penguins' playoff run had at least two storybook chapters.
In one, a plucky and unheralded group of defensemen missing its best player held two of the most dangerous offenses in the league at bay.
In the other, a veteran goaltender was writing an uplifting second act to his career at age 32, emerging from backup status to put his team on his back.
The final chapters still need to be written, of course, but Wednesday night, for the Penguins, the genre shifted from fairy tale to horror story.
Marc-Andre Fleury gave up four goals and was pulled before the game was 13 minutes old, the team's defensive structure crumbled to pieces and the Ottawa Senators cruised to a 5-1 victory in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final.
The Senators lead the series 2-1 with Game 4 set for Friday night in Ottawa.
"We should be a little bit embarrassed, the way we came out and the way we started this game," winger Chris Kunitz said. "We need to come in with more urgency and more jump every single time we step on the ice. Nothing's going to be handed to you or given to you. Nothing's going to be easy."
The Senators' Derick Brassard scores past Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury during the first period of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final Wednesday, May 17, 2017, in Ottawa. For more images from Game 3, visit the Trib's photo gallery .
Photo by Christopher Horner
Fleury was pulled after stopping 5 of 9 shots. Matt Murray, playing his first game since April 6 because of a lower-body injury, stopped 19 of 20 shots the rest of the way.
Immediately following the game, coach Mike Sullivan said he hadn't yet considered who he would start in Game 4.
With Kris Letang done for the season and Justin Schultz now out with an upper-body injury, the Penguins came into Wednesday's game without their top two puck-moving defensemen. The remaining defense corps had its roughest night of the postseason.
"We've dealt with it all year long. Are we worried about it? Not really. We don't have a choice," Sullivan said of his personnel situation on defense. "That's just the reality of the circumstance, and it's nothing this team isn't accustomed to. We've been dealing with this all year long. Kris Letang played 40 games for us this year. We had to find ways to win without Tanger for half the season."
In the first period, the Penguins turned in an exhibition of slipshod defense and goaltending that left them in a hole there was no way they could dig out of.
"I don't think it has anything to do with strategy or X's and O's," Sullivan said. "It's a readiness. It's a hunger. We've got to play with more conviction."
In the first minute, off an offensive-zone faceoff win, Ottawa scored when a deflected Kyle Turris shot took a lively bounce off the end boards and Mike Hoffman banked in a shot off Fleury's skate at the left post.
In the middle of the period, the Senators scored three times in a three-minute span to blow the game wide open.
On the first, a bad-angle Marc Methot shot from the bottom of the left faceoff circle banked in off Fleury's shoulder, Ian Cole's right skate and Fleury's left skate.
On the second, with the Penguins fixated on an Erik Karlsson backhand pass from the blue line that was knocked down in the slot, Derick Brassard sneaked in backdoor and buried a pass from Clarke MacArthur.
On the third, Smith threw a puck off the glass behind the goal, skated around Brian Dumoulin and scored on a wraparound with little resistance from anyone in black and gold.
"It wasn't good enough. Not even close," defenseman Olli Maatta said. "I don't think we were ready at all. You see how good of a team they are. If you're not ready to go, they're going to make you pay. I think the biggest thing now is just have a short memory. We have to make sure next game is going to be our best game."
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.