Taking their best shot ... 54 times
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The Penguins had thrown everything possible, everything conceivable, everything they had at Ottawa goaltender Martin Gerber halfway through Game 2, everything but the cliche-clogged kitchen sink, except that Gerber looked up in the middle of the second period last night, and here came the kitchen sink.
Wearing No. 44.
Brooks Orpik, bolting free from the penalty box, taking a lead pass, skating in free on Gerber and flipping mentally through his robust array of poisonous offensive maneuvers, of which there are, of course, none.
And still the thundering defenseman who'd scored all of one goal this winter forced Gerber to turn away a fairly nifty backhander, but even though the puck slid harmlessly to Gerber's left, a political truth emerged fully mature in that moment.
If the Penguins are going to outshoot the Senators by something like 2-to-1 in these Eastern Conference quarterfinals, the Senators won't see the semis.
When Pittsburgh took 35 shots in Game 1, it was certainly an ominous sign north of the border. The Penguins, for all their offensive combustibility, are outshot more often than not. In the final 10 regular-season games, they'd been checked aggressively enough to limit them to fewer than 30 shots every time. When the Penguins outshoot opponents, they have the best winning percentage in the NHL.
Last night they had 40.
After two periods.
After three, with none other than Mario Lemieux following a big smile around an exceedingly pleased Penguins dressing room, you couldn't help but ask No. 66 if he could remember an evening when Pittsburgh's hockey club fired 54 shots.
"Been awhile," he said. "Was that a record?"
Heck yeah, 54 shots on goal. Cracked the Penguins' record for playoff shots in regulation of 49. Last night's total shots not on goal? Maybe 300.
"I think it's that we've finally stopped looking for the perfect play all the time," said Pascal Dupuis after Ryan Malone's heroic last-minute wrap-around goal and empty netter (shots 53 and 54) cut off Ottawa's air supply in this series. "We're always looking to make it perfect, but there's a lot to be set for shooting it on the net and crashing."
There's a lot to be said for forechecking as well, and clearly if the Senators are going to allow these Penguins to skate downhill into their end for most of the night, there is simply no answer to such a crisis.
"They've got a lot of talent," said Senators coach Bryan Murray, strangling the obvious. "When they have the puck and they're in your zone, they're very creative, especially five on three, or five on four; they're very good."
Here's the other truth that was self evident before the puck was dropped, but soon became highly relevant. The Senators have been down 2-0 in the playoffs five times. They've never once recovered.
That's likely why they played so desperately well for most of last night's throbbing third period, wiping out what was left of a 3-0 Penguins lead on a goal by Cody Bass. For most of that period, it looked as if the Senators had finally figured some things out in this series.
"I not sure that's what it was about," said Dupuis. "I think we were just not playing as solid defensively. You know, in the back of your mind, you've outscored them 7-0 at one point in the series, you start to think it's going to be easy and you start taking the easy way."
Dupuis had four shots on goal, passed on a fifth when he fed Hossa approaching from stage left on a play where Hossa actually skated through the goal mouth behind Gerber, but couldn't control the biscuit. Jordan Staal, Petr Sykora, and Sidney Crosby had six shots. Evgeni Malkin had eight.
On one third period power play, they whipped five rockets on Gerber, which is pretty frightening for a team that wasn't above playing an entire period without bothering to put even two pucks on net.
Late in the first period, the Penguins took an opportunity to show the Senators what you do with a five-skaters-to-three advantage, the very situation on which Ottawa twice failed to capitalize in Game 1.
With Chris Neil off for slashing, defenseman Chris Phillips got whistled for holding behind the Penguins net. Swarming five-on-three for 1:00, the Penguins snapped a scoreless tie when Sergei Gonchar blasted Malkin's soft pass against the back of the Ottawa net.
Malkin's assist meant that he'd scored as many points in four periods of this series as he had in all five games against Ottawa last spring.
"We were just trying to put it on the net and it resulted in a lot of quality chances," Malone said. "I'm not sure we'd been doing that enough."
If this idea catches on, what'll be next? Seventy-five shots?
First Published April 12, 2008 12:00 am