PITTSBURGH (AP)—Daniel Alfredsson, maybe. Same goes for Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley or Mike Comrie. The Ottawa Senators have numerous skilled players capable of deciding their first-round playoff series against Pittsburgh, but goalie Ray Emery appeared to be a question mark.
Four games later, that’s all changed. Right now, Emery may be the MVP of a tightly played yet free-flowing series in which there seems to be a good scoring chance created nearly every minute but not always a lot of goals.
Emery, a postseason starter a year ago only because Dominik Hasek was hurt, made big save after big save against Pittsburgh’s collection of young scorers and the Senators weathered the Penguins’ best all-around game so far for a 2-1 victory Tuesday night in Game 4.
“He was really good,” Pittsburgh coach Michel Therrien said of Emery, whose only previous 10 postseason games came last year for one of the NHL’s most playoff-experienced teams. “He was the difference.”
A go-ahead goal from an unlikely source, defenseman Anton Volchenkov, decided it as Ottawa swept the two games in Pittsburgh to take a 3-1 lead into Game 5 on the Senators’ ice Thursday night.
“Going back home, we want to bury them,” Spezza said. “We don’t want to come back here and give them life. When you get a team on the ropes, you wanna try to knock them out.”
If it weren’t for Emery, who had few easy saves among the 23 he made, the series very easily could be a best-of-3 right now. Instead, the Penguins must sweep the next three—two in Ottawa—to win their first playoff series in six years.
“Ray definitely was the key,” Chris Phillips said. “We stuck to our game plan, tinkered with a few things to make adjustments to their adjustments, and just tried to keep applying pressure instead of trying not to get scored against.”
The Senators, attempting to reverse the franchise’s long history of postseason failures, got a fluky goal from Jason Spezza off Penguins forward Jordan Staal’s stick with only 3 1/2 minutes gone. After that, they limited the Penguins to only a Staal goal during the second period, going into a lockdown mode after Volchenkov scored midway through the third.
The game-winner came when Mike Comrie carried the puck from behind the net and threw a hard pass to the slot, and Volchenkov one-timed a 30-foot shot over goalie Marc-Andre Fleury’s shoulder. Volchenkov’s last playoff goal came four years ago.
“I don’t score much but I scored a very big goal,” said Volchenkov, who said his only bigger goal was in the world juniors for Russia against Canada. “It was a great, great play, a pass for me … and not too much traffic. I might be a little bit lucky.”
The Senators quieted NHL scoring champion Sidney Crosby, who failed to score for the first time in the series despite playing a strong game, and rookie Evgeni Malkin, who doesn’t have a goal despite having 85 points during the season. Pittsburgh also was 0-for-5 on the power play to Ottawa’s 1-for-3, and the Penguins were 0-for-9 in their two home games.
“We’re all aware when their big guys are out there for them, and the guys who have been given the assignment to shut them down have doing a good job,” Emery said.
Pittsburgh has come back from 3-1 deficits before, most recently in 1995 against Washington, but the Senators are 3-0 after they go up 3-1.
“You’ve got to win the next game, that’s the way you look at it. You can’t win three (games) in one (night),” Crosby said. “You win the next one.”
The Penguins have been outscored 14-3 in their last four home playoff games, all losses, dating to the 2001 Eastern Conference final against New Jersey. … Ottawa won only 10 of 33 one-goal games during the season, counting overtime. … The Penguins outshot Ottawa 13-6 in the second period, a reversal of Ottawa’s 44-18 advantage in the first three games. … Crosby was seen conferring with team owner Mario Lemieux after the game. Asked if the Hall of Famer passed on any helpful advice, Crosby said Lemieux was merely telling him where he could get a post-game snack. Crosby has lived in Lemieux’s house during his first two NHL seasons. … Fleury, who has had only one bad game in his first playoff series, stopped 24 shots.