Penguins blow late lead, fall to Senators in 2OT
OTTAWA — Daniel Alfredsson changed the conversation Sunday night.
His Ottawa Senators will not be swept from the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and the favored Penguins will not roll unimpeded into the Eastern Conference final.
Alfredsson's final-minute goal extended Game 3, which was won, 2-1, for the Senators on center Colin Greening's score seven minutes and 39 seconds into a second overtime.
Game 4 of this best-of-seven series is Wednesday night at Scotiabank Place, and the Senators can pull even with a victory.
“We have to change the page and get ready for the next one,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said.
He was one of the few Penguins not showing signs of disbelief in the postgame dressing room.
Crosby was not on the ice for Alfredsson's tying goal, which was scored with 29 seconds remaining in the third period.
The Senators trailed, 1-0, and had pulled goalie Craig Anderson to nullify the Penguins' man-advantage. Top Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson had committed a slashing penalty with a 1:27 left.
A drop-pass in the neutral zone from Alfredsson found defenseman Sergei Gonchar, who skated into the offensive zone and dished to right winger Milan Michalek.
Alfredsson broke free into the slot — Penguins center Evgeni Malkin and defenseman Kris Letang each lost sight of him — and was unmarked to receive a chip-pass from Michalek.
Alfredsson bested Penguins goalie Tomas Vokoun, completing an awkward-appearing, end-of-game sequence.
“We had one more guy on the ice,” left winger Matt Cooke said. “It shouldn't have been that awkward.”
Letang was on the ice with defenseman Paul Martin, Malkin and fellow center Brandon Sutter, and left winger Chris Kunitz.
“It's not awkward,” Letang said. “It's just a question of making the right play.”
Actually, now it's a question of regrouping.
Malkin, who was not available for comment, tried that single-handedly in the overtimes.
By far the Penguins' best offensive player throughout Game 3, he was often dazzling in the extra periods — winning one-on-one battles at the blue line, below the goal line and along the boards. He attempted 15 shots in the game.
However, neither Malkin nor any Penguin could get the better of Anderson, who in Game 2 on Friday night had been pulled from a game for the first time since the NHL lockout ended.
Anderson finished with 49 saves, looking every bit like the elite goalie he has proven to be during the past two regular seasons.
His early glove save on Crosby in the first period set a tone, and his heads-up freeze of a Malkin shot with the Penguins on a two-man advantage in the second visibly frustrated members of the power play.
The Penguins went 0 for 6 with the man-advantage, which had clicked at 32.3 percent over eight previous playoff games.
Clicking at 16.7 percent in Game 3 would have given the Penguins a vise-like grip on another series they are heavily favored to win.
The Senators will stick to a successful formula of overcoming obstacles.
Top center Jason Spezza returned for Game 3 after having not played since undergoing back surgery in February. He played almost 19 minutes.
Karlsson, a few months removed from surgery to repair a partially severed Achilles tendon, was 12 seconds short of playing 40 minutes in Game 3.
Anderson, who also missed time during the regular season, suffocated shots, and left Malkin — tied for the playoff points lead before Sunday — shaking his head in disbelief on several occasions.
Alfredsson is the Senators captain, the iconic figure of a franchise that returned NHL hockey to Canada's capital city. He is 40, set to become an unrestricted free agent, and perhaps playing his final games in a Hall of Fame career.
Had he not scored late in Game 3, conversation around here would have been about his future.
His goal changed that conversation, too.