Ian Cole #28 of the Pittsburgh Penguins throws punches to stand up for teammate Chad Ruhwedel #2 after a hit from Bobby Ryan #9 of the Ottawa Senators in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Canadian Tire Centre on May 19, 2017 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Francois Laplante/NHLI via Getty Images)
OTTAWA - The Senators are fit to be tied.
The Eastern Conference final is down to a best-of-three after the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins served notice they aren’t surrendering their title without a fight as the Senators dropped a disappointing 3-2 loss in Game 4 on Friday night at the Canadian Tire Centre. The series is tied at 2-2.
Pittsburgh goaltender Matt Murray, who led the Penguins to a Stanley Cup last spring, made his first start of the post-season in place of Marc-Andre Fleury. Although they tried hard, the Senators couldn’t erase a three-goal deficit as only Tom Pyatt and Clarke MacArthur were able to score for Ottawa.
“You can’t wait until the end to try and get back against a team like Pittsburgh,” said MacArthur. “It’s just not going to happen every night. They did a good job defending at the end and it’s never fun to let one get away at home like that.
“At the same time, we know we’re still okay here.”
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby led the attack along with winger Jake Guentzel, while Brian Dumoulin and Olli Maatta also scored for Pittsburgh. This wasn’t Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson’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 club to within a goal with 5:01 left in the third when captain Erik Karlsson’s shot from the point was deflected past Mike Hoffman before hitting Pyatt’s skate to bounce past 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 couldn’t get it done. The Senators stretched their slump to 0-for-25 in their past nine games when they went 0-for-4 on Friday — including one in the final minute. The TV cameras caught a frustrated Karlsson upset with centre Kyle Turris after a power play in the second.
“I think everybody is frustrated. We haven’t capitalized on the power play, a couple of my passes were off and we weren’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,” said Turris.
The Senators were trying to push Pittsburgh to the brink of elimination but they were well aware the Penguins wouldn’t go quietly into the night.
“I don’t think we came out and played our game the way we wanted,” said Karlsson. “We 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 didn’t give ourselves enough early to give ourselves a chance.”
The Senators were down 3-1 after the second after MacArthur’s third of the playoffs with 1:38 left in the period allowed the club to get on the board. Until he redirected the puck past Murray, it looked like he was going to be unbeatable. That brought some life to the building because it hadn’t been pretty until then.
The Penguins pulled out to a 3-0 lead when Dumoulin’s shot appeared to bounce off Dion Phaneuf’s skate on Anderson’s glove side. The Senators faithful wasn’t happy its their club’s effort — it had a right to be upset because this wasn’t what anybody expected with so much on the line.
Crosby, who hadn’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 late goal by Maatta on Anderson, and certainly one he’d like to have back, gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead after the first. Pittsburgh wasn’t the least bit pleased Ottawa 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.
Outshot 14-9 by Pittsburgh, Maatta beat Anderson on the stick side with only 46 seconds left with the Penguins breaking in on an odd-man rush. It didn’t look good on Anderson and he had been solid up until that shot beat him.
“We knew they were going to come out harder and make a push,” said Anderson. “We never quit. That’s the great thing about this game. We put the hammer down in the third to get ourselves back in this game.”
The decision 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 Wednesday.
“We put (Fleury) in a tough spot (in Game 3). We needed a better start tonight,” said Crosby.
The Sens and Pens face off in Game 5 on Sunday at 3 p.m. at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh.