The Ottawa Senators lead the Eastern Conference Final 2-1. Can they push the defending champions to the brink of elimination?
|Penguins vs Senators
ML -110 / +100
Here are tonight’s starting goaltenders, courtesy of LeftWingLock.
Game 3 was guaranteed to be an uphill battle for the Pittsburgh Penguins from the get-go. Patric Hornqvist, Bryan Rust and Justin Schultz were all ruled out of commission before game-time, thinning the Penguins’ lineup significantly.
Before the Penguins had time to blink, they found themselves trailing.
Less than a minute into play, the Sens won an offensive zone draw and cycled the puck behind the Penguins’ net. Alex Burrows sent a pass to Kyle Turris at the left-wing circle. Turris’ shot was deflected off the endboards and took a lively bounce out to the goalline. Mike Hoffman took a whack at it and slipped it past Marc-Andre Fleury.
Midway through the first period, the Senators went to work with their cycle game again. Derick Brassard found Bobby Ryan down low who then dished it to Marc Methot. Methot’s initial shot was saved by Fleury but the rebound was stuffed in by Methot on a second-chance. Ian Cole was left all alone in front to defend the net from two attackers. His partner Chad Ruhwedel was up the boards by the blueline. It was a sloppy breakdown.
Things went from bad to worse in a hurry.
Just two minutes later, the Sens re-entered the zone. Karlsson flicked the puck to Bobby Ryan who was stuffed on the shot attempt. Clarke MacArthur retrieved the puck and found Derick Brassard with a cross-slot pass. Ottawa just kept moving their feet. Pittsburgh looked sluggish and afraid to commit to a play.
And it got worse.
Zack Smith sent a dump-in deep into the Pittsburgh zone and actually got to the puck first. He then wrapped around the net and put the Senators up 4-0. Brian Dumoulin and Ron Hainsey were embarrassingly slow on the backcheck.
Zack Smith scores the @Senators FOURTH goal of the first period! WHAT HAPPENED HERE?
— NHL Daily 365 (@NHLDaily365) May 18, 2017
How does one player singlehandedly outskate two defensemen?
And for the defensemen’s malfeasance, Marc-Andre Fleury was punished. Flower was sent to the bench and Matt Murray was left to finish the game. It’s hard to blame Fleury for what was an otherwise abysmal period for the defensemen in front of him, but a message had to be sent.
Shots were fairly even at 12-10 in the first period in favor of the Senators, yet the score was totally lopsided at 4-0.
Pittsburgh would have a few chances in the second period, but penalties kept slowing their roll. The Penguins handed the Senators two powerplay opportunities early in the frame.
Before the period ended, the Sens tacked on one more to their total. A slow change allowed the Senators to jump out on a 2-on-1. Mike Hoffman dangled around Ruhwedel and Ian Cole was muscled off by Kyle Turris. Turris finished the play off with a backhand deke in front of Murray.
Sidney Crosby would get a powerplay goal to ruin the shutout for Craig Anderson, but that would be it for scoring in the game. The Senators finished with a 5-1 victory and a 2-1 series lead.
In all seriousness, with Justin Schultz absent from the game, the Penguins needed a big game out of their defensemen. They got one of the sloppiest, slowest efforts of the season. Ian Cole won’t get a whole lot of national attention because he is not a big name, but he has made some pretty egregious errors this postseason.
Evgeni Malkin was given a game misconduct towards the end of regulation. Malkin’s temper had flared up in Game 2 with teammate Phil Kessel.
Viktor Stalberg made his return to the Senators’ lineup in Game 3 after a week-long hiatus. He played 13:18 of ice time and almost four minutes of penalty kill time.
For what it’s worth, neither team did a particularly good job of getting to the high-danger areas of the ice. But the Ottawa Senators capitalized on their early chances and kept their feet moving. Pittsburgh looked flat. That’s easy to say when the final score is 5-1, but the Penguins simply did not look like the same run-and-gun team that they were in games past.
Craig Anderson made saves when he had to, which is more than could be said for Marc-Andre Fleury. Murray is expected to start Game 4, however.
Ottawa’s five-goal outburst does wonders to halt the whole “the Senators are boring” narrative. At least, for the time being. Let’s face facts, they still are not a sexy team to watch. It’s like watching the 90s Devils. They are loaded with talent and spread the puck well, and they even light the lamp fairly regularly at home. But neutral zone trapping, dumping and chasing and playing the cycle is all very…well, plain.
It works, yes! It works quite well. It’s fundamental North American hockey.
Sens fans are pretty defensive of this label. No one wants to be told that they’re boring- not in life, not in relationships, not in hockey. Of course they want to be the team that wins over the NHL’s hearts as they surge to a potential Stanley Cup berth.
Ain’t gonna happen.
The Sens have now won their last four home games. The home team has won five of the last six encounters between these two teams. Pittsburgh has lost four of their last five in Ottawa.
They are going to need a much better effort tonight. And they are going to need it with a banged up roster.
Hornqvist, Rust and Schultz are all expected to miss Game 4. Tom Kuhnhackl is questionable to return to the lineup after missing the last week of action.
Alex Burrows left Game 3 early with a leg injury and he is questionable for tonight.
Ottawa’s health is playing a big factor in determining the outcome tonight. The line is still favoring Pittsburgh, which is foolish in my mind. Home underdogs this late in the Stanley Cup Playoffs should be an absolute bet.
However, I took the Pittsburgh Penguins to win this series in six. The line being at -110 softens the blow of betting on them. I’m going to stand by my series prediction in that I still say the Penguins are heading to the Stanley Cup Final, but Justin Schultz’s absence has me sweating. Schultz has proven himself to be the most important Penguins d-man this postseason.
Without him in the lineup, things are slower. He was the best possession man at the blueline.
So yes, the Pens will win the Eastern Conference Final. But it will take seven, not six games. Ottawa will win tonight.
Prediction: Take the Senators to win. Play the under.
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