By Dan Scifo
From the Point contributor
PITTSBURGH – The Ottawa Senators couldn’t stop the Pittsburgh Penguins’ power play in Game 1 of their best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal.
They couldn’t stop Sidney Crosby in Game 2.
Crosby netted a hat trick Friday during Game 2 at Consol Energy Center, helping the Pittsburgh Penguins defeat the Ottawa Senators, 4-3, and take a commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference Semifinals.
“You don’t get those opportunities all the time to score three, especially in the playoffs,” Crosby said. “I was able to capitalize on my chances and felt pretty good out there.”
Brenden Morrow also scored for the Penguins, who are ahead 2-0 in a series for the first time since sweeping the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2009 Eastern Conference finals.
Two more wins and the Penguins will be headed back to the Eastern Conference finals. Game 3 is 7:30 p.m. Sunday in Ottawa.
“You want to play well at home and we did that, we got two wins,” Crosby said. “But I don’t think your mindset changes. We know it’s going to get harder.”
This one certainly wasn’t easy. Pittsburgh led 4-2 after two periods, but was forced to withstand a third-period fury from the Senators, who got goals from Kyle Turris, Colin Greening and Jean-Gabriel Pageau.
Pageau scored 2:01 into the third period to make it 4-3, tapping the rebound from a Guillaume Latendresse shot from the slot behind Penguins’ goaltender Tomas Vokoun, who made 19 saves for his fourth straight playoff victory.
Ottawa, making its first appearance in the second round since advancing to the Stanley Cup playoffs in 2007, has never rallied from a 2-0 deficit in the postseason. The Senators have won just two playoff series in franchise history after dropping the first game, but none since 2003.
“It’s 2-0, but this team isn’t going to go away easily,” Vokoun said. “They showed that tonight. It’s not going to be easy.”
The Penguins, 5-0 when leading after two periods, were able to hold on to win their fourth straight playoff game for the first time since winning five consecutive in 2009.
The Penguins have scored in five of six periods against the Senators and at least three goals in 13 of their last 14 playoff games. Pittsburgh, 10-2 in their last 12 playoff games against Ottawa, also chased an opposing goaltender for the third time in eight playoff games.
Craig Anderson, who stopped 18 of 21 shots, was pulled early in the second period after Crosby’s third goal. Robin Lehner made 20 saves in his first playoff appearance, trying his best to help the Senators rally with a key right pad save on Evgeni Malkin from point-blank range midway through the third.
“Any goalie has to be ready, especially a backup,” Vokoun aid. “He was ready and he played well.”
The Penguins made it look easy against the NHL’s best penalty killing team Tuesday in Game 1, going 2-for-3 on the power-play in addition to adding a short-handed goal.
Pittsburgh still notched a power-play goal Friday, but the Senators had more trouble with Crosby.
It was the second career playoff hat trick for Crosby, who has six goals and 12 points this post-season. He became the only Penguins’ player other than Mario Lemieux to notch multiple playoff hat tricks, his last coming in 2009 against Washington. Crosby, with 17 points in nine career home playoff games against Ottawa, has at least one point in nine of his past 11 postseason games against the Senators.
“I’ve played with good players and you learn not to be surprised or in awe of it,” Morrow said. “It’s not a gift. The things he does on the ice, you see the work he does in practice and he gets rewarded for it in games.”
Crosby victimized Senators’ defenseman Erik Karlsson on the Penguins’ first goal just 3:16 into the game.
Crosby chipped the puck past Karlsson in the neutral zone and found another gear, rushing around last year’s Norris Trophy winner as he headed into the Senators’ zone where he ripped a wrist shot past Anderson.
“I didn’t know it was him,” Crosby said. “He’s a good skater, one of the best, so being able to catch a step and get around him was good timing.”
Turris tied it later in the first, just 12 seconds after Malkin was whistled for hooking. Turris took a pass from Daniel Alfredsson along the goal-line and swept the puck past Vokoun, knotting the score.
Crosby put the Penguins back on top less than three minutes later with his second of the game. Crosby, coming down the left side off the rush, banked a shot off Anderson and into the net to make it 2-1.
“I was kind of running out of space to make a pass,” Crosby said. “I kind of saw him leaning a bit and didn’t know how much room was there, but it found a way to trickle in there.”
Crosby capped his hat trick, making it 3-1, with a power-play goal just 1:15 into the second period. The Penguins’ captain took a pass from Kris Letang at the top of the left circle, reached back and blasted a slap shot to the top right corner.
The standing-room only sellout crowd responded by showering the ice with hats and the Hart Trophy candidate with chants of “MVP,” “MVP.”
“I wanted to shoot a little earlier,” Crosby said. “It worked out pretty good because he was going across as I was shooting it.”
That was enough to chase Anderson, bringing in Lehner, but it momentarily sparked the Senators, who cut the Penguins’ lead to just a goal 40 seconds later. Greening took a pass from Zack Smith off the rush and sent a shot over Vokoun’s glove hand, making it 3-2.
Morrow though helped his team regain a two-goal cushion with a score just seconds after a power play expired.
The puck was tipped twice on the way past Lehner as James Neal initially redirected Paul Martin’s shot from the point, but Morrow got the last touch, which gave the Penguins a 4-2 lead.
“I just went to the net and it went off my stick,” Morrow said. “I think it was rising up and it was a little deflection. That’s tough on goalies.”
NOTES: Crosby became the fifth-fastest player in NHL history (75 games) to reach 100 post-season points and is now fourth all-time in franchise history, passing Ron Francis…Malkin is tied with Kevin Stevens for fifth on the team’s all-time postseason assist with 60. Malkin, the fourth player in league history to record an assist in the first eight playoff games, is tied for the playoff lead in scoring with David Krejci of Boston with 14 points…Senators defenseman Eric Gryba missed the game with an upper body injury sustained in Game 1 after a collision with Pittsburgh’s Brooks Orpik.