Collier: Penguins seize momentum early in Game 2

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Penguins forward Brenden Morrow was so dead right about so many things Friday night that there was really no point in doubting his analysis.

He obviously was dead right about going to the front of the net eight minutes into the second period, as that's where his stick became the last inanimate object Paul Martin's blast from near the left point struck on the way to the Ottawa net.

It hit James Neal's stick sometime before that, and who knows how many other things, but when it finally stopped, the Penguins had the winning goal, even if few suspected it at the time and confirmation was delayed by a desperate hour or more.

"They scratched and clawed right to the end," Morrow said after the Penguins won for the fourth consecutive time in this postseason and headed for Canada with a 2-0 series lead in their luggage.

So let's not quibble. Morrow is right. The Senators did scratch and claw, and they did it right to the end; they just didn't do it at the beginning, which was curious to say the least.

We were to assume, we meaning -- I guess -- me, that Paul MacLean's team would use all of the valuable intelligence gathered from Game 1 in this series and use it to reset the politics of this desperate Penguins encounter entirely in Game 2, or certainty attempt it.

On the contrary, the Senators took the Uptown ice Friday night in a kind of wait-and-see posture that did not allow them to so much as touch the hockey puck in the offensive zone until the first period clock read 17:17 remaining, that did not allow them to fire a shot on goal until nearly two after that, and that ultimately did not allow them to fully recover from a Sidney Crosby hat trick they did everything they could to make it look almost inevitable.

"We were not ready to match their start in either game," MacLean said. "Catch-up hockey is losing hockey. Nothing about it surprised us."

Ottawa's only coherent idea appeared to be the one that was perfectly obvious to the more than 18,000 assembled, bringing goaltender Craig Anderson to the bench when it became clear he was not going to get Crosby out of his head in this game.

"That had nothing to do with the way Andy played," MacLean said with a straight face. "It was more for the team."

But it did have something to do with the fact that Sid's second postseason hat trick was constituted by a couple of spectacular goals sandwiched around a spectacularly bad goal, a bad-angle shot that caromed home off of Anderson's right side. If you're not going to square yourself properly as Crosby flies into the circle to your right, a bench seat seems only proper.

Anderson's high-gloss save percentage of .950, the one he posted in confounding the Montreal Canadiens in the first round, had faded to a .879 in the first four-plus periods of this Eastern Conference semifinal series.

"I think it changed the momentum of the game," Anderson said after watching teammate Robin Lehner turn away a flurry of exquisite scoring chances for more than a period and a half. "The tone of the game changed. We started to play a lot better. There are several ways to change the momentum. You can call timeout. You can change the goalie, you can do a lot of things."

Anderson said sometimes getting pulled can be a gambit welcomed by the goaltender, but in May?

"You get a little mental break, you get to sit out, watch the team, see if you can put it in perspective," he said. "We all can be better. You've got to keep learning. The game is so much based on momentum. You've got to find a way to change momentum.

"Could be a fight. Could be a timeout. Could be a goalie change."

The momentum in this series might now have swung out of Ottawa's control. They got put in a position where they were forced to subtract their best player, and if there's no change Sunday night in Ottawa, the Senators will be forced to flip through their own grim playoff history.

As a semi-famous football coach once said, hindsight being 50-50, perhaps our working assumptions should have been hung closer to the empirical evidence.

Such as that the Penguins have beaten this team's postseason posterior 10 times in the past 12 chances, such as that in the previous 10 playoff games against these Senators, Crosby was already averaging 2.2 points per game, and such as that Ottawa's aforementioned playoff history is such that it has now won exactly five of the previous 23 postseason appointments.

"They're hard to play against at home," Penguins defenseman Kris Letang said. "We expect their best hockey game."

Uh-huh. Maybe even for 60 minutes or more.

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Gene Collier: First Published May 18, 2013 4:00 AM


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