Talbot's late goal topples Senators, 3-2

Home ice won't be set until tomorrow

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Phillip MacCallum, Getty Images
Maxime Talbot celebrates his game winning goal against the Senators with teammates Colby Armstrong and Ryan Whitney last night.
By Dave Molinari, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

OTTAWA, Ontario -- The Penguins didn't go into their game against Ottawa last night looking to make a statement.

It just worked out that way.

Maxime Talbot scored with less than 10 seconds left in regulation to give them a 3-2 victory against the Senators at Scotiabank Place and a 3-1 edge in the season series.

That's significant, because the Penguins and Senators will meet in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, although the home-ice advantage for that series will not be determined until tomorrow.

The teams have 103 points each -- for the Penguins, that's the second-highest total in franchise history -- but Ottawa has an edge in the first tiebreaker, total victories.

Consequently, the Senators can lock up home ice by beating Boston at TD Banknorth Garden; if the Senators lose, however, the Penguins (46-24-11) can earn home ice by defeating the New York Rangers at Mellon Arena.

Talbot made sure there would be some suspense on the final weekend of the season by tossing his own rebound past Senators goalie Ray Emery from the inner edge of the left circle.

"You have to battle for your goals in the playoffs," Talbot said. "And this was a playoff game."

Although a lot of playoff series are a game or two old before the teams develop a genuine dislike for one another, the Penguins and Ottawa Senators apparently decided there was no point in waiting.

"There was a lot of physical action going," Penguins winger Jarkko Ruutu said. "It's going to be like that in the playoffs."

The first obvious show of animosity came at 8:52 of the first period, when Penguins right winger Colby Armstrong skated directly into Ottawa goalie Ray Emery, who had the audacity to be, well, standing in his crease.

Ottawa center Jason Spezza, who had 83 penalty minutes in his previous 65 games, picked up seven little more than a minute later. The first two were assessed for taking a swing at Ruutu, who seems to have that effect on people, the final five for driving his forearm or elbow into Ruutu's face.

Spezza was severely punished for what he did, but didn't get any grief from his coach.

"I was glad he did it," Senators coach Bryan Murray said. " I thought it was a very severe penalty for what he did, but I'm not sorry he did it."

From that point on, neither side passed on a chance to finish a check or exchange a snarl.

Penguins center Sidney Crosby picked up an assist to push his league-leading points total to 118, good for a nine-point lead over San Jose center Joe Thornton before the Sharks faced Calgary last night.

Penguins right winger Georges Laraque was a healthy scratch for the first time since being acquired from Phoenix in late February; he missed two games earlier because of back spasms. Ronald Petrovicky took his place in the lineup.

Ryan Whitney, who missed the Penguins' 4-1 loss to Buffalo Tuesday because of a sore groin, assisted on the game-winner and reported no major problems with his injury.

"It might be a little sore, but I'll be ready for Saturday," he said.

Ottawa opened the scoring at 7:59 of the first period, 32 seconds after Penguins right winger Mark Recchi was penalized for holding. Spezza got the goal, swatting his own rebound past Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury from along the goal line to the left of the net.

The Senators killed off the early part of the extended power play that resulted from Spezza's major with no problem, but the Penguins manufactured two goals in a 55-second span as it was winding down.

Michel Ouellet got the first, collecting the puck above the left circle and carrying it into the middle of the ice, then working his way down the slot before burying a shot over Emery's glove at 14:05 for his 19th goal.

Gary Roberts put the Penguins up, 2-1, at 15:00, as he corralled a Josef Melichar rebound in front of the Ottawa net and tossed it behind Emery for his 19th of the season.

Ottawa tied the game during a five-on-three power play at 4:11 of the second period, when Dany Heatley threw in a shot from right side of the net.

Heatley got his goal while Rob Scuderi was serving a delay-of-game penalty and Melichar was in the box for a rare triple-minor -- four minutes for high-sticking and two for cross-checking.

It proved to be the final goal by either team until Talbot got the winner. The one that means the final game of the regular season will be critical.

"That's what we wanted," Whitney said. "It might as well be a game of huge importance."

Tom Hanson, Associated Press
Ottawa's Jason Spezza, top, gets a five-minute major penalty for roughing the Penguins' Jarkko Ruutu in the first-period last night in Ottawa.
Click photo for larger image.
Looking ahead

The Penguins and Senators will meet in the first round of the playoffs, but home ice still is to be decided.

Senators (47-25-8)
Points: 103
Last night: Lost to the Penguins, 3-2, at home
Games remaining Tomorrow: at Boston.
Penguins (46-24-11)
Points: 103
Last night: Defeated the Senators, 3-2, on Maxime Talbot's goal late in the game.
Games remaining Tomorrow: Rangers
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