The Penguins will try to build off a dominating performance in Game 1 as they continue their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the Senators on Friday night at Mellon Arena.
The second-seeded Penguins beat the Senators 4-0 on Wednesday. Last year, Ottawa defeated Pittsburgh 6-3 in Game 1 en route to an easy five-game win in the quarters.
“We feel we’re a much more mature team now. That’s not our team that played in Game 1 last year,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “We’re different, much more improved, and I think we proved that tonight.”
This year, the Senators were done in by a familiar nemesis. Gary Roberts, who had been out since Dec. 29 with a broken left leg before returning for Pittsburgh’s regular-season finale on Sunday, scored twice, nearly matching his season total of three goals.
The 41-year-old Roberts played for Toronto when the Maple Leafs eliminated the Senators three times during a four-season span from 2001-04, and has recorded 14 of his 32 career postseason goals against Ottawa. The Senators even tried to acquire him at the trading deadline in 2007.
“It’s a good feeling for us, for sure,” said Roberts, who scored for the first time since getting two goals on Dec. 23. “Last year, I think we were in shock after Game 1 in Ottawa, they came out so hard and battled us real hard. But that feeling, I don’t think it’s left in this dressing room.”
Evgeni Malkin, who finished second with 106 regular-season points, chipped in a goal and two assists for Pittsburgh, and Marc-Andre Fleury recorded his first postseason shutout. The Penguins are 10-2 in their last 12 home games, including nine straight wins.
Fleury, 1-4-0 with a 3.77 goals-against average in last season’s series, improved to 11-2-1 with a 1.42 GAA in 15 games since returning Feb. 28 from a nearly three-month layoff with a high ankle sprain—the same injury that sidelined Crosby for nearly 30 games.
Fleury, who had four shutouts during the regular season, has won his last 11 home games, posting a 1.08 GAA.
“For the last 15 games, he has been the best goalie in the National Hockey League, so I am not surprised,” Penguins coach Michel Therrien said.
The Senators, meanwhile, were shut out for the third time in five games and failed to convert on two 5-on-3 chances.
“Those 5-on-3s have to be automatic,” said Jason Spezza, who led the Senators with 58 assists and 92 points. “They kill you if don’t score on them. We did a good job to get them, we generated a lot offensively … we got our chances.”
But Ottawa also is a banged-up team. They are without Daniel Alfredsson, who had 40 goals and 49 assists during the regular season but is unlikely to play in this series because of knee and neck injuries from an open-ice hit by Toronto’s Mark Bell on April 3.
The Senators also were without centers Mike Fisher (knee) and Chris Kelly (broken leg), and they also lost defenseman Anton Volchenkov, who was cut in the forehead by Malkin’s slap shot midway through the second.
Ottawa is 2-6-1 over its last nine games. Including the postseason, the Sens had gone 11-0-2 in their previous 13 games in Pittsburgh and 6-0-1 in the last seven meetings overall.
“We had a chance to get back in it, we called a time out and had two great chances (on the first two-man advantage), but we couldn’t score,” Senators coach Bryan Murray said. “We’re pushing to find a goal scorer right now.”
The series will shift to Ottawa for Game 3 on Monday night.