SEN­A­TORS up­end Pens

Lethbridge Herald - - FRONT PAGE - THE CANA­DIAN PRESS — OT­TAWA

Sen­a­tors im­pres­sive in vic­tory over Pen­guins for 2-1 lead in best-of-seven Eastern Con­fer­ence fi­nal —

Mike Hoffman no­ticed the chat­ter on so­cial me­dia about his team's sup­pos­edly bor­ing style of play, but he and the rest of the Ot­tawa Sen­a­tors ap­pear not to care as it con­tin­ues to work.

Ot­tawa rolled over the Pitts­burgh Pen­guins 5-1 in Game 3 on Wed­nes­day night and now sit two wins from an un­likely trip to the Stan­ley Cup fi­nal.

“If we played a run-and-gun game that maybe some peo­ple would rather watch, we prob­a­bly wouldn't be here,” Hoffman said af­ter the thor­ough dis­sec­tion of the de­fend­ing Stan­ley Cup champs. “So we use our as­sets and that's what works.”

Though their of­fen­sive out­burst high­lighted the lat­est vic­tory - in­clud­ing the fastest three goals in team play­off his­tory - the Sens bot­tled up their op­po­nents yet again. Pitts­burgh has scored a mere three goals through the first three games of the se­ries - one in each game, in­clud­ing a mean­ing­less late tally from Sid­ney Crosby in Game 3.

The Sens struck 48 sec­onds into the first Eastern Con­fer­ence fi­nal game at Cana­dian Tire Cen­tre in 10 years, but in the 10 or so min­utes af­ter that - with the game still close - Pitts­burgh got lit­tle go­ing of­fen­sively. The usu­ally speedy Pens were slowed down through a con­tested neu­tral zone and man­aged only non-threat­en­ing shots from the out­side at Craig An­der­son.

Then, Ot­tawa fired off three goals in two min­utes and 18 sec­onds to put the game out of reach.

The wave be­gan with re­lent­less pres­sure on the ail­ing Pitts­burgh de­fence, which was with­out Justin Schultz for Game 3 on top of usual No. 1 de­fence­man Kris Le­tang, who's out for the post-sea­son. Nowhere was this was more ap­par­ent than on the third Sen­a­tors goal when con­tin­ued hound­ing of the Pen­guins forced a se­ries of give­aways and even­tu­ally a tally from Der­ick Bras­sard.

The 29-year-old man­aged to get a step on Mark Streit, 10 years his se­nior, who was play­ing for the first time in the 2017 play­offs.

Hoffman, Marc Methot and Zack Smith also scored dur­ing the one-sided first pe­riod, which saw four goals get past Mar­cAn­dre Fleury in 12 min­utes and 52 sec­onds.

The rocky out­ing from Fleury now has the Pen­guins at least ques­tion­ing whether to turn to Matt Mur­ray for Game 4 on Fri­day night.

Of equal im­por­tance mov­ing for­ward for Pitts­burgh, the high­est-scor­ing team in the reg­u­lar sea­son, will be find­ing a way past the so-called Kanata Wall.

Head coach Guy Boucher has in­sisted on an ex­tremely de­fen­sive style from the day he took over the Sen­a­tors last May.

It took un­til De­cem­ber for the full em­brace, for his teach­ings to be­come in­stinc­tual rather than some­thing that re­quired thought out on the ice. As Hoffman ex­plained it, ev­ery­one knew at that point - three months into the sea­son - where they needed to be on the ice and what their re­spon­si­bil­ity was.

Maybe a run-and-gun at­tack might be more en­ter­tain­ing to watch, he added, but that's not the way the team works un­der Boucher.

“At this level you do what the coach says,” said Hoffman, who also played for Boucher in the Que­bec Ma­jor Ju­nior Hockey League. “We're work­ers here. We don't de­cide which sys­tem is put in place, we just have to go out there and ex­e­cute it and do our job. That's what we're here to do.”

For Boucher, that means a quick tran­si­tion to de­fence when the puck is lost, plenty of blocked shots, “good sticks” in the de­fen­sive zone and a neu­tral zone crowded with wait­ing bod­ies.

Boucher ob­served slip­page dur­ing a sec­ond-round se­ries against New York with play­ers “sniff­ing” out ex­tra of­fen­sive zone op­por­tu­ni­ties and the Rangers cap­i­tal­ized with break­aways and odd­man rushes be­fore ul­ti­mately fall­ing in six games.

Ot­tawa was de­ter­mined not to make the same mis­takes against a more dan­ger­ous Pitts­burgh op­po­nent and of the nine pe­ri­ods played so far, Boucher has been happy with eight — the lone ex­cep­tion be­ing the third pe­riod of Game 2.

No­table in their ef­forts is the con­tin­ued shutdown of the Pens most ex­plo­sive of­fen­sive play­ers.

It took un­til six min­utes into the third pe­riod of Game 3 for Crosby to land his first point of the se­ries. Ev­geni Malkin has a goal and an as­sist through three games, but fin­ished with just a sin­gle shot and no points in Game 3. Phil Kes­sel got the gamewin­ner af­ter a se­ries of frus­tra­tions in Game 2, but he’s been in­creas­ingly both­ered by the con­stant jar­ring of for­mer Maple Leafs team­mate Dion Pha­neuf.

The Sens are up in the se­ries by play­ing ex­actly as they have for most of the sea­son — lean­ing on their de­fen­sive ways to get by. Wed­nes­day’s blowout was an od­dity though for a team that had 11 of its first 14 games this spring de­cided by a goal.

“We’re not both­ered by what’s said about our team,” Bras­sard said. “Our fo­cus is on what we need to do.”

Cana­dian Press photo

Ot­tawa Sen­a­tors left wing Mike Hoffman (68) and left wing Alex Bur­rows (14) cel­e­brates Hoffman's goal as Pitts­burgh Pen­guins goalie Marc-An­dre Fleury (29) de­fence­man Olli Maatta (3) and left wing Carl Hagelin (62) look on dur­ing the first pe­riod of game three of the Eastern Con­fer­ence fi­nal in the NHL Stan­ley Cup hockey play­offs in Ot­tawa on Wed­nes­day.

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