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Penguins' breakdown on Alfredsson goal changes series

| Monday, May 20, 2013, 8:36 p.m.
Reuters
The Senators' Daniel Alfredsson (11) and Chris Phillips celebrate Alfredsson's goal on Penguins goalie Tomas Vokoun during the third period Sunday, May 19, 2013, in Ottawa.

OTTAWA — Chris Kunitz would just as soon see The Breakdown become a footnote in the story of the 2013 Penguins.

On Monday, though, neither Kunitz nor Penguins coach Dan Bylsma could avoid a gripping narrative:

That last-minute goal by Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson, which tied Game 3 on Sunday night, transformed a second-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Senators into a choose-your-own-ending read.

The Penguins led that game, 1-0, and needed only to prevent a shorthanded goal to claim a commanding, 3-0 advantage in the best-of-seven series.

Instead, Alfredsson's tying goal and a double-overtime winner by winger Colin Greening has the Senators in position to pull even, 2-2, with a win in Game 4 at Scotiabank Place on Wednesday.

The Breakdown changed everything.

“We went out with a possession mentality, got a little passive and didn't possess the puck,” Kunitz said Monday, a day away from practice for both clubs.

“We started backing off and let them come at us with speed.”

Speed, as the New York Islanders showed in Round 1, is kryptonite to this Penguins squad led by Superman-like centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

However, on the power play is where the Penguins would likely have most wanted to be in Game 3 while trying to finish off the Senators.

Even at 0 for 4 to that point in Game 3, the Penguins were still clicking at a 28.6-percent rate overall in the playoffs. Also, they seemed to be due, having failed to score a power-play goal in only two previous games this postseason, and never when having at least three man-advantage chances.

A slashing penalty by Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson with 1:27 remaining in regulation had positioned the Penguins on the brink of the 3-0 series lead only three NHL clubs have ever lost.

A breakdown of The Breakdown that Bylsma conceded changed the complexion of this series:

• The Penguins failed for a second time on the power play at a dump-and-retrieve attempt, and the Senators quickly moved the puck out of their defensive zone.

• Instructions from the Penguins bench called for a line change after the dump, but only Crosby was able to get off. He was replaced by center Brandon Sutter. Winger Pascal Dupuis was to replace Malkin, but the Senators' swift transition from defense to offense forced Malkin to stay on the ice in a defensive role.

• In the neutral zone, Alfredsson drop-passed to Senators defenseman Sergei Gonchar. Alfredsson curled after the pass and skated to Ottawa's offensive zone. Kunitz let him go, confident Alfredsson would be picked up by either Malkin (high) or defenseman Kris Letang (low) in the defensive zone.

• Kunitz trailed Alfredsson through the neutral zone. Upon crossing the blue line, Kunitz stayed high in the defensive zone to pick up the Senators' player who jumped onto the ice when goalie Craig Anderson headed to the bench.

• Gonchar carried into Ottawa's offensive zone. He successfully penetrated it cleanly because of weak gap control by Penguins defenseman Paul Martin and Sutter, the latter a first line of defense guarding the middle of the ice at the blue line.

• After gaining the blue line in Ottawa's offensive zone, Gonchar passed left to Senators winger Milan Michalek. Malkin and Letang became transfixed on the puck. Neither Malkin nor Letang marked Alfredsson, who skated untouched along a backdoor-line into the slot.

• Michalek chipped a pass between Malkin and Letang. Alfredsson was open, received it and deflected a puck behind Penguins goalie Tomas Vokoun.

Letang and Malkin headed to the bench flashing signs of frustration. Crosby tried to boost Malkin by stick-tapping his shin guard. Veteran defenseman Brooks Orpik motioned with his hand for Letang to calm down.

“We definitely kind of gave it away there,” Orpik said Monday before echoing Kunitz's thoughts that players need to learn from the many mistakes in that situation.

Bylsma said that only once during the season and playoffs had the Penguins been in a similar spot: protecting a one-goal lead while on a power play in the last minute.

“We had a brief plan on the bench before going out,” Bylsma said of the Game 3 spot. “Unfortunately, we had two situations where we dumped the puck in and weren't able to put much pressure and allowed them to rush up the ice.

“We didn't accomplish the goal of holding onto the puck and possessing the puck.”

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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