OTTAWA â€” The Ottawa Senators were fit to be tied.
The Eastern Conference final is down to a best-of-three after the Senators suffered a disappointing 3-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final on Friday night at the Canadian Tire Centre. With the win, the series is all square at 2-2, with Game 5 set for Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh goaltender Matt Murray, who led the Penguins to a Stanley Cup last spring, made his first start of the 2017 post-season in place of Marc-Andre Fleury. Though they tried hard, the Senators couldnâ€™t erase a three-goal deficit as only Tom Pyatt and Clarke MacArthur were able to score for Ottawa.
â€œYou canâ€™t wait until the end to try and get back against a team like Pittsburgh,â€� said MacArthur. â€œItâ€™s just not going to happen every night. They did a good job defending at the end and itâ€™s never fun to let one get away at home like that.
â€œAt the same time, we know weâ€™re still okay here.â€�
Sidney Crosby led the Penguins attack along with winger Jake Guentzel, while Brian Dumoulin and Olli Maatta also scored for Pittsburgh. This wasnâ€™t Ottawa goalie Craig Andersonâ€™s best performance in these playoffs, but the push by his teammates to get back into the game was too little, too late.
Pyatt brought the Senators to within a goal with 5:01 left in the third when captain Erik Karlssonâ€™s shot from the point was deflected by Mike Hoffman before hitting Pyattâ€™s skate to bounce by Murray. The Penguins had been trying to protect the lead and that got the Senators to within striking distance.
The power play was a big reason why Ottawa couldnâ€™t get it done. The Senators stretched their slump with the man advantage to 0-for-25 in the last nine games when they went 0-for-4 on Friday night â€” including one in the final minute, which began a 6-on-4 advantage when Ottawa pulled Anderson for an extra attacker. The TV cameras caught a frustrated Karlsson upset with centre Kyle Turris after a power play in the second.
â€œI think everybody is frustrated. We havenâ€™t capitalized on the power play, a couple of my passes were off and we werenâ€™t connecting on plays that we needed to make to get our momentum going and to give ourselves an opportunity to capitalize. We gotta start with that and it will eventually come. First we have to execute,â€� said Turris.
The Senators had a chance to push Pittsburgh to the brink of elimination, but they were well aware the Penguins wouldnâ€™t go quietly into the night.
â€œI donâ€™t think we came out and played our game the way we wanted,â€� said Karlsson. â€œWe were trying to find it a little bit, we did that in the third a little bit especially, but if we had done that (early) it probably would have been a different story. We just didnâ€™t give ourselves enough early to give ourselves a chance.â€�
The Senators were down 3-1 after the second after MacArthurâ€™s third of the playoffs with 1:38 left in the period allowed them to get on the board. Until he redirected the puck by Murray, it looked like the Penguins goaltender was going to be unbeatable. That brought some life into the building, because it hadnâ€™t been pretty until then.
The Penguins pulled out to a 3-0 lead when Dumoulinâ€™s shot appeared to bounce off Dion Phaneufâ€™s skate and beat Anderson on the glove side. The Senators faithful werenâ€™t happy with their teamâ€™s effort and had a right to be upset because this wasnâ€™t the performance anybody expected with so much on the line.
Crosby, who hadnâ€™t been much of a factor in the first three games, scored his second of the series at 7:41 of the second on the power play to give the Penguins a 2-0 lead. Left alone down low in front of the Ottawa net, Crosby got a couple of chances to beat Anderson on the glove side.
A goal late in the first period by Maatta on Anderson, and certainly one heâ€™d like to have back, gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead. Pittsburgh wasnâ€™t the least bit pleased the Senators ended up with a power play after Bobby Ryan hit Chad Ruhwedel in the corner and Ian Cole got the only minor after he stepped in to defend his teammate.
Maatta beat Anderson on the stick side with only 46 seconds left in the first period with the Penguins, who had a 14-9 edge in the opening 20 minutes, breaking in on an odd-man rush. It didnâ€™t look good on Anderson, who had been solid up until that shot beat him. Itâ€™s the ninth time in these playoffs the Senators have given up the opening goal.
â€œWe knew they were going to come out harder and make a push,â€� said Anderson. â€œWe never quit. Thatâ€™s the great thing about this game. We put the hammer down in the third to get ourselves back in this game.â€�
The decision by Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan to start Murray came as a surprise.
But something had to change for the Penguins after Fleury surrendered four goals on nine shots in a 5-1 loss in Game 3 on Wednesday.
â€œWe put (Fleury) in a tough spot (in Game 3). We needed a better start tonight,â€� said Crosby.
Game 5 is set for at 3 p.m. start on Sunday at the PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh.