The memory of Sidney Crosby hoisting the Stanley Cup last year inspires the Pittsburgh Penguins more than a wall-sized photo of them shaking hands after a rare playoff loss ever did.
After losing to Ottawa in Crosby’s playoff debut in 2007, the Penguins drew a little extra motivation when they returned to the Canadian capital one year later to again meet the Senators in the first round.
Hanging on a hallway wall between the dressing rooms at Scotiabank Place in the spring of 2008 was a huge photo of the Penguins lined up for the traditional handshakes. It served as a humiliating reminder of their first-round loss to the Senators one year earlier.
Crosby then led Pittsburgh to a satisfying four-game sweep of Ottawa. That launched the Penguins’ recent playoff run that has featured two straight trips to the finals, including the franchise’s third Stanley Cup championship last year in a rematch with Detroit.
Now, in meeting the Senators for the third time in four postseasons, the background of Pittsburgh’s pregame soccer session will no longer offer any added motivation. The offending image has given way to a bare wall.
The Penguins can still thrive on Crosby’s determined play as they head to Ottawa for Game 3 on Sunday.
In the wake of adding the “Sidney Crosby hat trick” to hockey’s colorful glossary with a goal, an assist, and a game-changing save in Friday’s 2-1 win in Pittsburgh, the Penguins’ 22-year-old captain felt his team is finding its stride.
“We needed to get to our game, that was the main thing, and sometimes you get to your game and you don’t get rewarded for it, but we did a great job,” Crosby said after Pittsburgh tied the series 1-1. “It was great that we found a way to get the win. It’s not always like that.
“Going on the road now we know what our game looks like and we know what we have to do. Sometimes when you get to the road you simplify things even more and that’s not a bad thing for us.”
Anything that gets the talent-laden Penguins to take their game up a notch is a bad thing for the Senators, who held on for a 5-4 win in Wednesday’s series opener.
“They’re the defending Stanley Cup champions,” Ottawa coach Cory Clouston said Saturday. “They know how to win games. We didn’t expect to sweep the series. We know there’s going to be some ups and downs and it’s how you respond to those that are the most important thing.”
The Senators scored on their first shot 18 seconds in Friday night, but Peter Regin’s quick tally was the only offense for Ottawa in Game 2. They beat Marc-Andre Fleury five times on Wednesday.
“Last game we didn’t forecheck as well and get the puck in the areas where we need to, and they came hard,” Senators center Mike Fisher said. “Their forecheck was much better in Game 2 and we didn’t get the puck out of our end as quickly as we’d like to and get on the attack. Those are some of the things we need to be better at, and I think we’ll do that at home.”
Despite Crosby’s five points in the two games in Pittsburgh, veteran Ottawa defenseman Chris Phillips felt the Senators have done a good job of covering the star center, so far.
“Even when you look at the goal he set up (Friday) night, (Jason Spezza) was all over him and he did everything he could and (Crosby) found the open guy,” Phillips said. “And we talked about that before — it’s going to happen. We’ve got to do our best to slow him down, but he’s a great player and he’s going to create his chances.
“It’s about not making them point-blank and getting rid of rebounds, or not allowing their guys to jump on rebounds.”
Crosby’s inspired — and inspirational — play aside, Pittsburgh doled out 52 hits in Friday’s win, 21 more than Ottawa.
“They were a little bit hungrier,” Clouston said. “They were stronger at the net, more determined, and they were the better team. I thought both games the better team won and we’re going to have to respond and come out with a little bit more intensity, a little more urgency.”
One of the Senators’ hits was still being talked about one day later.
Senators defenseman Andy Sutton leveled Jordan Leopold late in the first and knocked him out of the game, leaving the Penguins with five defenders.
Sutton wasn’t penalized, and Clouston referred to the devastating check as a “good hit” again on Saturday.
“His elbow wasn’t stuck out, it was as tight as it could be to the body and it’s playoff hockey,” Clouston said. “They’re playing physical. They’re finishing their checks on us, we have to do the same — and not just Andy, we need everybody to finish their checks.”
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said that Leopold was “definitely day-to-day right now” and wouldn’t skate this weekend.
“It was a dirty hit,” Pittsburgh forward Mike Rupp said. “I still feel that way. You remember stuff like that down the road.
Veteran defenseman Jay McKee will replace Leopold in the lineup.
“He’s been a big part of our team all year,” Bylsma said. “We draw on his experience. He’s played in a lot of big games in this league.”
McKee was looking forward to making his Penguins playoff debut.
“I came here to win a championship,” McKee said following the Penguins’ optional practice before the team flew to Ottawa. “That’s why I’m here. I want to be a part of something special.”