|PIT Leads Series 2 - 0|
PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby stole the show Friday night in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. But the fact he had plenty of help may well be the bigger story for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Crosby scored his second career hat trick in the Stanley Cup Playoffs -- becoming the fifth player in franchise history to top 100 career points in the postseason -- and the Penguins defeated the Ottawa Senators 4-3 at Consol Energy Center.
"I was able to capitalize on my chances and felt pretty good out there," said Crosby, who scored his three goals in the first 21:15. "It was pretty fast-paced, played with a lot of speed, and everybody was going."
Nobody was going quite as well as Crosby. He dominated early with his three goals then set the tone late with his defensive-zone work.
"Tonight, I think it was his best, and it was his best early on for our team," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
The Penguins have a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 series. Game 3 is Sunday at Ottawa (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS). It's the first time the Penguins have won the first two games of a series since the Eastern Conference Finals in 2009.
The top-seeded Penguins have the cushion because their depth has paid dividends, including an impressive relief run by backup goalie Tomas Vokoun, who has won four straight games and made 19 saves in Game 2.
"Right from the drop of the puck, we came out and had some great chances, some good pressure," Penguins forward Jarome Iginla said. "I thought not just this game, but our first two games were good overall games.
"They are going to get some chances, but we put a lot more pressure on them, played a lot more [offensive-]zone time, had some great scoring chances. We gave up a few, but Voky was there when we needed him to be and we also had a timely [penalty kill]."
In essence, it was the perfect recipe for success.
For the second straight game, the Penguins found a way to score early and put the pressure on the visitors. Then, after taking the best counterpunch the seventh-seeded Senators had to offer in each game, the Penguins found a way to twice put away their opponent.
"We're not ready to match it, obviously," Ottawa coach Paul MacLean said of Pittsburgh's fast starts. "Catch-up hockey is losing hockey, and we're behind 1-0 early in both games and now you're playing catch-up the whole way and it takes energy and leads to frustration. We just have to make sure we're ready from the start."
Crosby put the Senators on the wrong end of the score in the game's fourth minute and made a little history in the process. His highlight-reel rush gave Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead and allowed him to reach 100 points in Stanley Cup Playoff game No. 75. Crosby became the fifth-fastest of the 84 players who have managed the feat.
The game-opening goal was a stunning display of speed and skill by Crosby. The Pittsburgh captain took the puck at his own blue line and built up a full head of steam through the neutral zone before he passed a flat-footed Erik Karlsson, the Ottawa defenseman, at the attacking blue line and beat goalie Craig Anderson with a low shot to the far corner at 3:16.
"I didn't know it was [Karlsson]," Crosby said. "I think he was getting ready to gap up and I was able to catch a stride there. He's a good skater. He's one of the best, so I think being able to catch a step and get around him was good timing. I don't know who pushed the puck up to me but it worked out pretty well."
Crosby would score two more times, following a power-play goal by Ottawa forward Kyle Turris that briefly tied the game at 1-1. On the first, Crosby rushed down the wing again, holding the puck in the hopes of passing to linemates rushing to fill the holes. When that option disappeared, he instead banked the puck into the net off Anderson's leg pad at 16:07.
In the second minute of the second period, Crosby made it 3-1 when he scored on the power play, muscling a heavy slapper under the crossbar, a goal that ended the night for Anderson, who made 18 saves on 21 shots. He was replaced by Robin Lehner, who was making his playoff debut in a move MacLean said was designed to revive his team.
"I think the tone of the game changed and we started to play a lot better," Anderson said. "Maybe it was a wakeup call for everybody, I don't know. You can call timeout, you can pull the goalie or a lot of things. Tonight it was changing the goalie."
It almost worked. Ottawa forward Colin Greening scored 40 seconds after the switch to make it 3-2, and the Senators had several other grade-A chances until another piece of Pittsburgh's depth delivered the fatal blow.
Forward Brenden Morrow, obtained at the NHL Trade Deadline, scored a little more than six minutes after Lehner entered. He deflected an already deflected shot by defenseman Paul Martin past Lehner's shoulder for the eventual game-winner.
"Some guys will say they meant to do that," said Morrow, who had missed a couple of shifts right before the goal with an "equipment malfunction." "But it was just luck."
Luck or not, it proved to be the winning margin after Ottawa forward Jean-Gabriel Pageau shoveled a loose puck into the Pittsburgh net 2:01 into in the third period to make things interesting.
But not interesting enough to gain a much-needed split at Consol Energy Center.
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