Sens believe in themselves against defending champions
PITTSBURGH — A day after they slowed, stalled and ultimately outlasted the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins on the road in Game 1 of the National Hockey League’s Eastern Conference final, the Ottawa Senators found much of the narrative surrounding them carried a hey-how’d-you-do-that tone.
While the Sens seemed happy to analyze their 2-1 overtime win Saturday, they were equally intent on looking ahead to Game 2, set for Monday night at PPG Paints Arena, and expressing a belief in themselves moving forward.
“We know as a group we have good hockey players. We’re a good team,” Senators goaltender Craig Anderson, who made 27 saves, said Sunday.
“You have to respect your opponent. We know they’re a good team. They’ve got a lot of star power. They’ve got some great players. Watching them play against Washington (in Round 2), they played great as a team. So it’s just a matter, for us, staying in the moment, and, win or lose, getting ready for the next one.”
Ottawa, a team left out of the playoffs last season, ran off Boston and the New York Rangers before taking the series lead against Pittsburgh. That has either spawned, or been the result of, a new-found cohesion among the Senators.
“It’s a totally different feel,” veteran centre Zack Smith said. “This is my seventh year. It’s not even so much a quiet confidence, but just trust within the group.
“Honestly, it’s been amazing throughout the whole playoffs.”
Beating the Penguins is easier when their stars are held in check.
Ottawa killed all five Pittsburgh power plays, including 45 seconds of 5-on-3 play, and didn’t allow a plethora of dangerous chances around the net.
Although playoff points leader Evgeni Malkin scored, fellow centre and Rocket Richard Trophy winner Sidney Crosby was held to two shots — and no other shot attempts — and post-season goals leader Jake Guentzel, one of Crosby’s linemates, had one shot. Sniper Phil Kessel had three shots but also three giveaways and was mostly quiet.
“To be honest with you, we didn’t talk about Crosby once,” Senators coach Guy Boucher said. “We’ve approached games the same way for a while — we need everybody to be able to play against anybody. We’ve always wanted our team to look at our defensive group playing not as a one-on-one but more as a pack mentality.
“So it doesn’t matter who we play against or how good they are. We’re aware of their strengths, but if we pay special attention to Crosby, then Malkin’s going to give it to us. If we pay special attention to him, then Kessel’s going to give it to us. They’ve got too many tools and players for us to start focusing on particular guys or start worrying about them every time they’re on the ice.”
With perhaps a nod to the Game 1 outcome, Ottawa took a day away from the ice Sunday while the Penguins held a full-team practice.
Ottawa Senators goalie Craig Anderson stops a shot by Pittsburgh Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin in the second period of Game 1 on Saturday night.