Chipped Ice A.M.: Crosby streak could change face of series
Editor's note: Visit triblive.com for the Chipped Ice A.M. report every morning the Penguins play or practice throughout their series with the Senators.
OTTAWA – While the home team's fans were cheering and chanting and the Ottawa Senators were cruising to an easy victory in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals Wednesday night, something was brewing at the Penguins' end of the ice.
On a late-game power play, with the Senators up 5-0, Sidney Crosby scored a goal, redirecting in a Phil Kessel shot from the left faceoff circle.
On the scoreboard, it couldn't have been more meaningless.
In retrospect, it might end up being one of the most pivotal moments in the series.
A lot of factors could turn momentum in favor of one team or the other as the series has been reduced to a best-of-three heading into Game 5 Sunday afternoon at PPG Paints Arena. Goaltending, special teams, injuries, the effectiveness of Ottawa's 1-3-1 forecheck – the list is long.
At the top of it, though, is this: If Crosby heats up, the Senators could be in trouble.
Crosby followed his late-game goal Wednesday with a goal and an assist in a 3-2 Penguins victory in Game 4 on Friday.
The assist came when he, Jake Guentzel and goal scorer Olli Maatta took off on a three-on-two rush that gave the Penguins the 1-0 lead that has been so critical in the series so far.
"Anytime he had (the puck) on his stick, he was flying with it," linemate Chris Kunitz said. "If you know right from the start that he's got it going, you want to give him the puck and let him do his thing."
The goal came on the power play in the second period. Crosby parked himself at the right post and muscled a cross-crease pass from Guentzel behind goalie Craig Anderson.
It wasn't an entry for Crosby's highlight reel, owing its success more to will than skill, but it was an important moment in the game all the same.
"It was hard to find out where the puck was going to come from," Crosby said. "You try to be as big as possible and try to knock the puck down. Sometimes it's rolling. Sometimes it's not on your stick. Just try to be big and hope you can keep it alive on the side of the net. Got a lucky break there, but it was nice to see it go in."
In addition to the goal and assist, there was another encouraging sign for Crosby: His five shots on goal were a game high.
"As a whole, each line generated some good chances," said Crosby, who played with Kunitz and Guentzel. "We played the right way. We were physical. We were on our toes a bit more and got the result we wanted."
A pair of power-play goals does not a scoring streak make, and it's entirely possible the Senators will continue to limit the Penguins and their captain with a stingy neutral-zone wall and dogged defensive-zone collapse as the series progresses.
It's possible, though, that a streak is starting for Crosby, which wouldn't be the first time he heated up this season.
Back in October, he started the season with eight goals in six games. In December, he had one goal streak of four games and another of five.
In February, sandwiched around recording his 1,000th career point, he had goals in four of five games. In March, he netted seven in a five-game stretch, including his memorable one-handed backhand on Buffalo's Robin Lehner.
Crosby has long been a believer in the fickle nature of goal scoring. Sometimes chances turn into goals and sometimes they don't. As long as the opportunities keep coming, the only prescription is to stick with it and wait.
Crosby never thought the chances were drying up, even when he went seven games without a goal after taking a Matt Niskanen cross-check to the face in Game 3 of the Washington series.
If those chances start going in, the Penguins' path to the Stanley Cup Final will become clearer.
"When we need a big goal, he finds a way on the power play to get it. He gets us on the board early, finding Olli on the far side of the ice with his vision," Kunitz said. "Anytime your leaders step up like that, it really trickles down and lets everybody know that we have to make another-level push to win a game."
THE SERIES: Tied, 2-2
LAST GAME: Matt Murray made 24 saves and held off a late-game Senators push as the Penguins held on for a 3-2 victory in Game 4 Friday night.
NEXT GAME: The Penguins will look to become the first team in the series to win back-to-back games when they host the Senators in Game 5 at 3 p.m. Sunday.
A NOTE: With Chad Ruhwedel out with a concussion suffered on a first-period hit by Bobby Ryan, the Penguins will be in need of a defenseman for Game 5. Mark Streit, Cameron Gaunce and Derrick Pouliot made the trip to Ottawa and have been practicing with the team. David Warsofsky and Frankie Corrado are also on the taxi squad.
A QUOTE: "We deserved two games, and we got two games. They deserved two games, and it's 2-2. That's how it is." – Ottawa coach Guy Boucher
A NUMBER: 70 – faceoff winning percentage for Evgeni Malkin in Game 4 (7 of 10). The rest of the team's centers won 21 of 47 draws (44.7 percent).
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.