When the Ottawa Senators scored four goals in the first period of Game 3, chasing Marc-Andre Fleury in favor of Matt Murray in Pittsburgh’s net, things looked bleak for the Penguins for the first time this postseason. Injuries had riddled the defense and hampered the offense, and the neutral zone trap the Senators employ seemed unbreakable.
When Ottawa scored a fifth goal in the second period Wednesday, insult was added to the quite literal and appropriately figurative injuries. And yet, the Penguins didn’t stop playing. They didn’t give up. They knew the game was over — everyone knew that was over by the middle of the first period — but momentum has a funny way of shifting at the strangest times. As Mike Emrick said during Sunday’s Game 5 telecast on NBC, that’s why playoff series are seven games.
Sidney Crosby scored an utterly meaningless power play goal six minutes into the third period of that 5-1 blowout to, if nothing else, show the Pens hadn’t totally given up. Since then, with Murray back in net full time, the Penguins have outscored the Senators 10-2, having taken two crucial Eastern Conference final games, and a 3-2 series lead into Game 6.
After Sunday’s 7-0 thrashing, the Penguins exit Game 5 and head back to Ottawa needing just one win to get back to the Stanley Cup Final. The Pens are back.
And, yes, as much credit as the Penguins deserve for Sunday’s win, Ottawa’s performance was, in a word, ridiculous. There’s no reason the Senators should have abandoned their trapping style so blatantly. There’s no cause for players casually flipping the puck behind their backs in their own zone, failing to clear the puck and giving the Penguins easy shots. That shouldn’t happen in a preseason game, let alone the Eastern Conference Final. There’s no explanation for it.
How is that an NHL play? At this point in the playoffs? And how is this a playoff goal at this stage of the series?
One could make the case the wheels (read: skates) had fallen off long before Craig Anderson was pulled in Game 5, but the first puck he saw after being re-inserted ended up in the back of the net from the most impossible angle. That’s not anything the Penguins did. That’s just bad hockey.
Olli Maatta opened the scoring on a solid shot at 8:14 of the first period that Anderson could have saved as well. Sidney Crosby scored on a power play four minutes later that Anderson had little chance to stop, but HOW IN THE WORLD IS THE BEST PLAYER ON THE PLANET THAT WIDE OPEN IN FRONT OF THE NET?
— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) May 21, 2017
When Bryan Rust was credited with a goal after a puck from Nick Bonino ricocheted off of him to make the score 3-0, the game was all but over at the 16:04 mark. Two minutes after that, the door was shut on Scott Wilson’s goal. 4-0.
And there were still two periods to play.
Seriously, let’s give the Penguins all the credit in the world for destroying the Senators and slamming this series shut. Marvel at the talent of Evgeni Malkin doing Evgeni Malkin things.
But how is this allowed to happen, no matter what the score in the game may be? These guys are so old — a combined 427 if I’m doing the math right — that even the Penguins official Twitter feed is cracking jokes.
“This is not Malkin and Crosby beating the Ottawa Senators,” NBC’s Keith Jones said during the second intermission. “This is Rust. This is Rooney. This is Bonino. This is Matt Cullen. That’s unacceptable if you’re [Senators’ coach] Guy Boucher. You’ve got a strong message to deliver to your team. When Cullen scored and Mark Streit’s setting him up, that’s not a good look for the Ottawa Senators. They’ve got a lot of work to do to get ready for the next game, let alone the next period.”
The next period got worse.
First Phil Kessel scored a power play goal 50 seconds into the third period, somewhat reluctantly, before Trevor Daley scored another power play goal eight minutes later to make it seven goals. Seven.
Unlike the Sens in Game 3, letting that crack open just enough for Crosby’s goal and the Pens to feel a little bit of hope at the end of a disastrous blowout, the Pens never gave Ottawa a chance in Game 5 to feel anything but disgust. Matt Murray made 25 saves on 25* shots, giving no late goal away to shift momentum back to the Sens.
The game was over early. The series is surely over now, too.
(*- An earlier version said Murray had 20 saves. He had 20 even strength saves, but 25 in all.)