OTTAWA -- The Penguins' power play has won lots of games for them, but they didn't need it to do that as the third period was winding down Sunday night at Scotiabank Place.
After all, they owned a 1-0 lead against Ottawa when Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson was penalized with 1:27 left in regulation.
All the Penguins had to do was avoid giving up a goal for 87 seconds -- a span in which they would have a man-advantage -- and they would have owned a virtually insurmountable, 3-0 lead in this second-round series.
Turned out to be too much to expect because the Penguins allowed Ottawa's Daniel Alfredsson to shake free and steer a Milan Michalek feed past goalie Tomas Vokoun with 28.6 seconds left to force overtime.
"You like to think you can hold onto the puck for the last 1:27, with a power play," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "That wasn't the case."
The significance of that lapse by the power play -- which also failed to score on any of its six chances, including a 5-on-3 that lasted nearly a minute -- was compounded at 7:39 of the second overtime, when Colin Greening of the Senators backhanded a rebound by Vokoun for a 2-1 victory.
And so, after being less than a half-minute from facing a 3-0 deficit -- a hole from which only three teams in playoff history have escaped -- the Senators are now down just 2-1 with a chance to pull even with a victory in Game 4 at 7:38 p.m. Wednesday at Scotiabank Place.
"Obviously, we let this one slip away," Vokoun said. "We had a power play and getting scored on on our power play with 30 seconds left in the game, that's a tough break.
"Sometimes, you have to go through adversity, and this is ours."
And it is largely self-inflicted, given the circumstances as the third period was winding down.
"It [stinks]," winger Jarome Iginla said. "But it's the playoffs."
The Senators' victory snapped a run of five consecutive playoff victories in Ottawa for the Penguins, who never have won six away playoff games in a row against a specific opponent.
Before the game, all the talk had been of Jason Spezza rejoining Ottawa's lineup, and rightly so. After all, he is the Senators' No. 1 center and a perennial all-star, and had been out nearly four months after undergoing back surgery. Tough to overstate the value of a guy like that.
Long before the night ended, however, it was apparent that Ottawa had gotten back a guy it needed even more than Spezza: Goalie Craig Anderson.
Not because Anderson had been injured or benched or absent, but because his elite-level game had been AWOL most of the first two games in the Senators' second-round Eastern Conference playoff series against the Penguins.
He had given up seven goals in just over four periods and was yanked from Game 2 after less than 22 minutes.
But Sunday night Anderson was sensational. Outstanding. Almost unbeatable as he turned aside 49 of 50 shots.
Vokoun wasn't bad, either, and the Alfredsson deflection was the only shot that eluded him until the second overtime. He finished with 46 saves and turned in what Bylsma called his best performance in his five playoff starts.
Neither team scored in the first period, when the Penguins ran up a 12-8 advantage in shots, and Anderson was sensational much of the second.
He denied Sidney Crosby 18 seconds after the first intermission, when Chris Kunitz put him down the slot alone, and stopped Evgeni Malkin as he moved down the right side at 5:35. Those chances sandwiched a 5-on-3 power play that lasted 58 seconds, but did not produce a goal.
"We had multiple chances to gain a lot of momentum on [power plays] and didn't get it done," Iginla said.
The Penguins finally broke through at 18:53 of the second, when Tyler Kennedy got a pass from Matt Cooke and beat Anderson from the right side of the slot for his second goal of the playoffs.
Cooke's assist was his first point of these playoffs, and it looked as if would have made the winner possible until the Penguins' last-minute letdown in the third period.
They kept their composure after Alfredsson scored, but that wasn't enough to get them a victory.
"Like we said the first series, we know the other team over there wants it, too," Iginla said. "It's supposed to be tough."
True enough, but this is one time the Penguins have made it tougher than it has to be.
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com or Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published May 20, 2013 3:45 AM