The Ottawa Senators started fast and never looked back in their series opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins. A similar performance in Game 2 would go a long way toward erasing some negative history.
Ottawa looks to win the first two games of a playoff series for the first time in franchise history Saturday as its Eastern Conference quarterfinal series continues at Scotiabank Place.
This is the 10th straight season the Senators have qualified for the playoffs, but they have advanced as far as the conference finals only once, losing to New Jersey in seven games in 2002-03.
Part of Ottawa’s problem has been its inability to seize control of a series. The Senators have never held a 2-0 lead in a playoff series, going 0-6 in Game 2 after winning the opener.
It’s hard to imagine Ottawa starting any better Saturday than it did Wednesday in Game 1 en route to a relatively easy 6-3 victory. The Senators dominated the much younger Penguins, outshooting them 9-2 in the first seven minutes and 29-12 over the first two periods.
Andrej Meszaros and Chris Kelly scored 5:01 apart early in the first period and the Senators held NHL scoring leader Sidney Crosby scoreless until a meaningless goal in the final minute in his playoff debut.
“When we started out strong, the crowd really rallied behind us, they’ve always supported us,” said Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson, who led the team with eight shots on goal.
“They did a really good job tonight,” Senators coach Bryan Murray said of his top defensive pairing. “This is the way they’ve played all year. They’ve been solid throughout.”
Also held in check was left wing Evgeni Malkin, a leading contender for the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie. Malkin managed only an assist on Sergei Gonchar’s third-period power-play goal that drew Pittsburgh within 6-2.
Crosby, who had a goal and three assists in four regular-season games against Ottawa, felt his team was too passive at the start.
“Instead of going out there and trying to set the tone ourselves, I think we tried go out there and feel things out,” Crosby said. “When you do that, you get caught watching sometimes and unfortunately they were able to get a lead on us.”
Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury, one of 13 Penguins making their playoff debuts, stopped 30 of 36 shots before he was replaced by Jocelyn Thibault midway through the third period with his team trailing 6-1.
Fleury is 2-5-0 with an ugly 5.07 goals-against average in eight career games against Ottawa.
“He gave up six goals but I’m glad the first game, his first playoff game in the NHL, is behind him,” Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. “It’s big for those kids. We’re a team that’s got a lot of attention all year long, first of all because of Sidney Crosby. Now the playoffs are another level.”
Considering the way the Senators finished the regular season, it wasn’t surprising to see them play so well in Game 1. They went 31-7-8 from Dec. 23 to the end of the season, narrowly edging the Penguins for fourth place in the East and home-ice in this series.
Dany Heatley’s goal nine seconds into the third period gave Ottawa a 4-1 lead. Heatley, one of two 50-goal scorers in the NHL this season, has nine goals in his last nine games.
The series shifts to Pittsburgh for Games 3 and 4 on Sunday and Tuesday, respectively.