Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins makes a stick save against the Ottawa Senators during the first period in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at PPG PAINTS Arena on May 15, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH — The Ottawa Senators will have to settle for the split.
What choice do they have?
The defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins put the Senators in their place by winning a 1-0 decision Monday night at PPG Paints Arena to tie the Eastern Conference final, 1-1, as the series shifts back to Canadian Tire Centre for Game 3 on Wednesday.
Pittsburgh’s Phil Kessel, who had been frustrated most of the night, broke the scoreless tie at 13:05 of the third period when he picked up his own rebound off a Jean-Gabriel Pageau blocked shot and beat Craig Anderson with the only goal the Penguins needed after completely dominating the Senators in the final 30 minutes.
This might have been the easiest shutout of Marc-Andre Fleury's NHL career. The Senators went a span of 18:53 between the second and third period without even recording a shot on the Penguins netminder. If the game plan was to hang on for dear life, the Senators nearly performed it to a tee until Kessel played hero.
Suddenly, the momentum has moved in the direction of the Penguins. And the Senators are going to have to find an answer quick, because this performance wasn’t pretty by any stretch of the imagination.
Ottawa tried desperately to tie it in the final minute, but couldn’t get it done. The Senators finished with just six shots in the third period.
The Senators were aware this game was going to be a lot different than the 2-1 overtime victory in Game 1 Saturday. The Penguins weren’t the least bit pleased with the way they performed.
“They’re going to try and tweak a little bit to get around us," Ottawa winger Mark Stone said before Game 2. "And they’re going to play us with desperation, so we need to match that.”
Anderson kept the Senators in it through 40 minutes. They were dominated in their own end and there’s no question that Pittsburgh created the better scoring chances.
The Penguins were having a terrible time creating chances in Game 1, so Monday was a flipping of the script.
Ottawa’s best chance came with Clarke MacArthur alone in front late, but he didn’t get a shot off on Fleury when attempting to put it through his feet and on his stick.
Really, it didn’t take long for the hatred to build up between these two sides. This series finally took a nasty edge, especially in the second.
Dion Phaneuf, who was a force in this game, nailed Jake Guentzel by stepping up on him and sending him to the ice as he came across the Ottawa blueline.
Earlier, it was Guentzel who had hit the post behind Anderson a Pittsburgh power play.
So frustrated were the Penguins, the television cameras caught Evgeni Malkin and Kessel in a heated argument going to the bench early in the second. Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan had to step in and was caught talking to Malkin, who was animated.
If the idea was a send a message early, the Senators were able to withstand the push by the Penguins. Phaneuf crushed Pittsburgh’s Bryan Rust with a legal open-ice check six minutes into the first. There will be debate over the hit, because Rust left the game, but Phaneuf never left his feet.
Dion Phaneuf #2 of the Ottawa Senators hits Bryan Rust #17 of the Pittsburgh Penguins during the first period in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at PPG PAINTS Arena on May 15, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Anderson had a strong start by making two huge stops on Malkin. It didn’t help the Penguins that they finished the first without two players, Rust and defenceman Justin Schultz. The latter has played a key role with Kris Letang and Trevor Daley injured but was forced to leave the game after getting hit into the boards by Mike Hoffman.
Sullivan told reporters the Penguins would adjust and try to do a better job creating scoring chances.
“After (the first game) both sides get a real indication of what the game plans are,” Sullivan said before the game.
“It gives coaching staffs an opportunity to not only assess not only their own team but also to try to assess their respective opponents and make the necessary adjustments they need to be able to make in order to help the group have success.
“As the series goes on, there becomes more familiarity on both sides.”