KANATA, Ont. -- Maxime Talbot is a popular guy for his bubbly personality and ready smile. He's also popular for the kind of plays he's become known for each spring.
Talbot's hustle on a second-period rush by Evgeni Malkin allowed the Penguins' center to score the go-ahead goal and Pittsburgh to take a 4-2 decision from the Ottawa Senators in Game 3 of the teams' Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series Sunday.
The Penguins now lead the series 2-1, with Game 4 here at Scotiabank Place on Tuesday. W in would give them the opportunity to close the series Thursday in Game 5 on home ice in Pittsburgh.
Sidney Crosby had a goal and an assist, and Alexei Ponikarovsky and Bill Guerin also scored for the Penguins. Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury turned in his second straight solid effort, stopping 20 of 22 shots, after he surrendered five goals on 26 shots in Game 1.
Mike Fisher and Matt Cullen scored for the Senators.
The winning play started when Malkin grabbed a loose puck in the Pittsburgh end and rushed the puck up the ice. As he entered the Senators' zone, he tried to split defensemen Erik Karlsson and Andy Sutton, but the puck rolled off his stick. Karlsson turned to chase the puck, but Talbot sneaked in behind him, lifted the rookie's stick and got a shot on net. Goalie Brian Elliott stopped it, but Malkin banged in the rebound from the doorstep for his third of the playoffs at 5:57 of second period.
"With him you always have to drive the net and give him space," Talbot said of playing with Malkin. "That's what I try to do. I got a loose puck, try to put it on net and he was there for the rebound. It's always fun to play with him."
Fun isn't a word Talbot would use much to describe his season. Surgery on both shoulders over the summer sidelined him for the first six weeks of the regular season; he played just 45 games, and scored only 2 goals.
"It was a really tough season for me," Talbot told NHL.com. "But I feel like the last two months I've really worked on getting back to my game, off the ice getting in the gym and trying to get strong for that big moment in the playoffs. The last three games I've been on it."
"It's been a difficult year for Max for a lot of reasons," said coach Dan Bylsma. "Injury-wise, not being effective like he hoped to be when he came back. I know he's been working real hard both on and off the ice, mentally getting ready for the playoffs.
"This time of year is all about the team and raising your battle level. Tonight's goal from Geno (Malkin), which was a huge goal for us, was all about effort. Wasn't much skill involved with it from Max's end. He just works hard to get his stick on a puck, create a loose puck and then get a stick on it when it's in the crease, which allows Geno to go to the net and get a big goal for us. You see Max, what he's doing on the penalty kill for us as well. He's been a factor for us in every game."
This time of year, it's becoming a habit for Talbot. In Game 5 of the 2008 Stanley Cup Final, he scored the extra-attacker goal to force overtime and allow the Pens to force a Game 6. Last season, he scored both goals in the Penguins' Game 7 win against Detroit in the Final. His fight with Philadelphia's Daniel Carcillo also sparked the Penguins' rally from a 3-0 deficit to a 5-3, first-round series-clinching victory.
"It's just Round 1 so I've got to bring it a couple more times if we want to go all the way," Talbot said.
The Penguins also will need more from Ponikarovsky, who scored his first playoff goal in six years. He corralled a Pascal Dupuis pass in the right circle in the Ottawa end and pulled up as Karlsson slid past him. With Malkin screening Elliott, Ponikarovsky scored his second-ever playoff goal, and first since April 28, 2004. It was his first goal of any kind in 11 games, dating to March 18.
"He got the goal for us by pushing the pace," Bylsma said. "We need those contributions from our wingers and we got it from Alex."
The Senators appeared to tie the game with 40.8 seconds left in the period, but a video review showed Peter Regin kicked a bouncing pass from Jason Spezza between the pads of Marc-Andre Fleury.
"I think it was probably the right call," said Senators coach Cory Clouston. "Haven't really looked at it too in depth, but I'm sure it was the right call -- that's why they made it."
Fisher scored to even the game at 1:53 of the second, scoring from the slot off a feed from Regin, but moments later, after the Senators nearly went ahead, Malkin gave the Pens a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
Crosby scored what became the game-winning goal in the final minute of the second when he took the puck from Sutton, skated through chaos in front of the Ottawa net created by Matt Cooke and scored over Elliott. Another nice defensive play by Crosby led to Chris Kunitz sending Bill Guerin in alone on a breakaway at 4:27 of the third to make it 4-1.
Cullen scored to make it 4-2 at 12:58 of the third, scoring off a nice diagonal feed from Daniel Alfredsson, but that was as close as the Senators would get.
Cory Clouston said his team had its chances but wasn't opportunistic enough. Besides the Regin goal that was waved off, the Senators had a few good chances immediately prior to the Malkin goal, and nearly scored early in the third when a Jason Spezza shot got through Fleury, but the Pens' netminder dived along the goal line to push the puck out of harm's way.
"We had our opportunities," Clouston said. "They made their mistakes, and they made good on their opportunities. To me, that was the biggest difference."
Alfredsson, the Senators’ captain, said his team is more than capable of bouncing back.
"We've been streaky all year long," said Alfredsson. "We've lost two (in a row) and now we need to go on a winning streak."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com
Shift of the night: It wasn't a full shift, but Matt Cooke atoned for his boarding penalty by jumping out of the penalty box and grabbing a puck in the neutral zone. He got the puck deep, went to the net and distracted Ottawa goalie Brian Elliott enough to allow Sidney Crosby to score what turned into the winning goal in the final minute of the second period.
1 - 0 PIT
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 PIT
3 - 1 PIT
4 - 1 PIT