Penguins blow 3-0 lead, fall 4-3 in OT
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Perhaps this point won't seem so bad if it gets the Penguins the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
Or first place in the Atlantic Division.
Or a berth in the Stanley Cup playoffs, for that matter.
But, until then, it will go down as painful, though wholly deserved, compensation for allowing a 3-0 lead to dissolve into a 4-3 overtime loss to Ottawa at Mellon Arena.
"We threw a point away," defenseman Darryl Sydor said.
Along with a chance to hurdle Ottawa and move into a tie for first place in the East. Instead, the Penguins (35-21-6) slipped two points behind the Senators and one in back of first-place New Jersey in the Atlantic.
The universal reaction among the players -- "It's a tough one to take," right winger Colby Armstrong said -- seemed perfectly reasonable, given the circumstances.
They had, after all, blown a 3-0 advantage. At home. Against an opponent that had seemed, for most of the afternoon, quite content to lose without a fuss. And been beaten on a goal with 3.2 seconds left in overtime.
Penguins coach Michel Therrien, however, found the outcome more palatable than did most of his players. He spoke of how he was "proud of our team effort" and said the Penguins had "passed that test" the Senators presented.
He apparently was grading this one on a generous curve.
"We deserved to win," Therrien said. "Those are the type of games we deserve to win. But, sometimes, it's going to happen."
In this case, it happened when Ottawa's Daniel Alfredsson flipped a backhander past goalie Ty Conklin from the inner edge of the right circle with just over three seconds to play.
Alfredsson scored after the Penguins had come within millimeters of getting the winner and a couple of points in overtime, like when Evgeni Malkin missed the net during a two-on-one break, and when Ryan Malone put a shot off the crossbar.
Malkin was held without a point for the first time in 11 games.
The Penguins' failure to capitalize on their overtime chances was in keeping with one of the game's dominant themes -- their inability to exploit the opportunities they generated.
The Penguins converted just one of six power plays -- Ottawa had only one try with the extra man -- and managed only three goals despite, according to Therrien, having a season-high 30 scoring chances.
"We just couldn't find the back of the net," Malone said.
Therrien attributed that, in large part, to Senators goalie Ray Emery. He finished with 32 saves, although it's worth noting that he was beaten on the short side on the Penguins' first two goals.
"Why don't we give credit to Emery?" Therrien said. "He played really well. He was tough to beat. We had tons of chances. ... We hit three posts. But he was really good. He was the reason they won."
For much of the afternoon, it didn't seem like there would be any need to explain an Ottawa victory, because the Senators didn't seem terribly interested in earning one.
Petr Sykora gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead by beating Emery with an unscreened slap shot from the top of the left circle 107 seconds into the game. Armstrong made it 2-0 when he scored from above the right dot at 4:09 of the second, and Jeff Taffe put them up by a field goal by flipping in the rebound after Emery stopped Jordan Staal during a two-on-zero break.
At that point, the only suspense figured to involve the Penguins' ultimate margin of victory, because Ottawa was operating at a level somewhere between sluggish and sleepwalking.
"They never really had anything [going]," Sydor said.
That changed when Cory Stillman exploited a Conklin puckhandling gaffe to make it 3-1 at 12:47, and Dany Heatley got the Senators to within one at 17:14.
"We got a little sloppy in the second," Armstrong said. "They've got some weapons over there, and they can put the puck in the net. You give them a couple of chances, and it's in the back of the net."
Heatley put it there again at 6:09 of the third, forcing the overtime Alfredsson eventually ended.
Alfredsson's goal locked up two points for Ottawa, and cost the Penguins one they might miss badly in a month or so.
"When you look back at the end of the year, it's going to be close," Sydor said. "We know it's going to be close."
First Published February 24, 2008 12:00 am