NHL Playoffs: Penguin tighten their grip on series

Despite giving up the first goal, the Penguins keep control of series by scoring twice early in the third

OTTAWA -- There were no inspirational speeches in the Penguins' locker room during the second intermission last night.

No great tactical adjustments. No player who stood up and challenged his teammates to reach for greatness.

Nothing remotely close, really.

"It was the same as always," right winger Petr Sykora said. "Nothing special went on."

That all changed when the Penguins got back onto the ice, however, as they scored twice in the first 90 seconds of the third period to begin transforming a 1-1 tie into a 4-1 victory against Ottawa in Game 3 of their first-round playoff series.

The Penguins lead the series, 3-0, and can close it out with a victory in Game 4 at 7:08 p.m. tomorrow at Scotiabank Place.

Ottawa will be trying to become the third team in NHL history to win a series after losing the first three games. Toronto did it against Detroit in the 1942 Stanley Cup final, and the New York Islanders did it against the Penguins in the second round in 1975.

The Penguins will attempt to sweep a series for the first time since the 1992 Cup final against Chicago. Ottawa has trailed a series, 3-0, twice previously, and lost Game 4 both times, which suggests it probably won't be long before the Senators' season is formally declared dead. In both of Canada's official languages.

Ottawa got a double-barreled emotional boost before the game, when right winger Daniel Alfredsson -- its captain and best player -- returned to the lineup after sitting out Games 1 and 2 because of a knee injury, and Penguins left winger Gary Roberts was scratched because of a sore groin.

It is a virtual rite of spring here for Roberts to torture the Senators, and the public-address announcement that he would spend the game in street clothes drew a loud cheer -- and an almost-audible sigh of relief -- from the crowd of 19,961.

Turned out to be one of the few things the fans got to celebrate.

The Penguins survived a strong start by the Senators -- "We expected that, especially early," center Sidney Crosby said. "We did a good job weathering the storm" -- and didn't lose their composure after Nick Foligno scored 71 seconds into the second period to give Ottawa its only lead of the series.

"There was no panic at all," Sykora said.

It helped that the Senators' advantage didn't have much of a shelf life, because Max Talbot pulled the Penguins even at 5:39 by putting a backhander between goalie Martin Gerber's legs from the inner edge of the right circle.

"That goal was huge," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "On the scoreboard, and for calming the crowd."

Although Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis got the assists, every Penguins skater on the ice touched the puck during the sequence that produced the goal. Ryan Whitney fed it to Rob Scuderi, who advanced it to Dupuis. He fed it ahead to Hossa, who put it on Talbot's stick.

Even though the Penguins had the better of play in the second half of the middle period, the Senators probably felt reasonably confident about their chances of getting back into the series when the score was tied after 40 minutes.

That all changed 12 seconds into the third, however, when Crosby beat Gerber from inside the left circle for what proved to be the game-winner.

"I had a good bounce there, and had a good look," Crosby said. "Marian was coming up on the right side, but I had a good chance to shoot. Found my spot."

Jordan Staal did the same at 1:30, steering in a Tyler Kennedy feed from along the right-wing boards to make it 3-1.

"It just goes to show the talent on this team, and how quickly we can change a game," Staal said.

The Penguins put the game out of reach with a power-play goal at 8:55, when Hossa pulled the puck out of a pile of sticks and skates and flipped it by Gerber from the left side of the crease.

The goal was Hossa's first of these playoffs -- and his first in exactly four years, since he got one against Toronto while playing for the Senators.

"It is nice to finally get the first goal and have a good game," he said.

Almost as nice as it will be for the Penguins if they can wrap up the series in four games.

"We're sitting here with a 3-0 lead," Sykora said. "Hopefully, we can close it out Wednesday."

Dave Molinari can be reached at DWMolinari@Yahoo.com . First Published April 15, 2008 4:00 AM


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