PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators facing off in the Stanley Cup playoffs has become an almost annual rite of spring.
Their Eastern Conference semifinal matchup marks the fourth time the teams have met in the playoffs in the past seven seasons. The Penguins won the previous two series in 2008 and 2010, while Ottawa took the series played between the two teams in 2007.
On Tuesday, the Penguins took their first step toward winning a third consecutive playoff series against Ottawa, defeating the Senators 4-1 on the strength of two power-play goals, a short-handed goal and solid goaltending by Tomas Vokoun. Evgeni Malkin and Jarome Iginla also extended their league-best playoff points streaks to seven games.
The Penguins got on the board early via a power-play goal. With Kyle Turris off for high-sticking, Paul Martin fired a shot from the point that deflected off Ottawa defenseman Jared Cowen and bounded past goaltender Craig Anderson to give Pittsburgh the early 1-0 lead at 2:41 of the first. Brenden Morrow provided a screen in front that made it nearly impossible for Anderson to see the deflected shot.
Unfazed, the Senators came right back and tied the game just over two minutes later when Erik Condra backhanded a puck from below the goal line that banked off the backside of Vokoun and settled perfectly on the goal line for a split second before Colin Greening rushed to the crease to stab the puck across the line.
Pittsburgh's first goal deflected off Cowan, but he also had a hand in the second goal. James Neal swooped in behind the Ottawa net, picked the pocket of Cowan and backhanded the puck to Chris Kunitz, who threw a pass across the ice to a wide-open Malkin, who snuck in the back door behind Anderson to tap the pass into an open net.
The Penguins took advantage of another power play late in the second period to take a two-goal lead.
Kris Letang attempted a pass from the left point to Jarome Iginla in the crease. Although the pass got in his skates, Iginla was able to kick the puck to his backhand and throw it on net. The rebound bounced to the stick of Kunitz, positioned at the top of the crease, and he was able to push the puck past a sprawling Anderson at 18:33 of the second. The goal was Kunitz's third of the playoffs and Pittsburgh's league-leading ninth power-play goal of the postseason.
The Penguins nearly took a three-goal lead with 11 seconds left in the second when Morrow's shot snuck through Anderson and slowly slid toward the goal. But, just as it was about to cross the line, Erik Karlsson rushed in to stop and clear the puck.
The Penguins went into defensive mode in the third, trying to avoid relinquishing a two-goal lead as they did on more than one occasion in the first round.
Ottawa's best chance to get back into the game came when the Penguins' Neal was sent off for holding, but the Penguins iced the game on a short-handed goal from Pascal Dupuis at 11:24. Dupuis broke in two-on-one with Matt Cooke and opted to shoot it himself, wristing the puck over Anderson's stick-side shoulder and just under the crossbar.
Neal was whistled for a third penalty later in the third period, but the Penguins killed off that penalty, just as they did with all seven Ottawa power plays.
Vokoun made 35 saves to earn the victory, while Anderson made 26 saves in defeat. Vokoun has a 13-1 record in his last 15 appearances this season.
Game 2 of the series will be Friday night in Pittsburgh.
NOTES: Fourteen players scored for the Penguins in the first round, which was the most of any playoff team. ... Daniel Alfredsson is in his 13th season as Ottawa's captain, making him the longest-serving captain in the NHL. He leads the Senators in every major playoff statistical category including games played (117), goals (49), assists (47) and points (96). ... With an assist on Pittsburgh's first goal, Malkin now has an assist in seven consecutive playoff games, which is a career high. ... Only 83 players in the history of the NHL have scored 100 points in the playoffs, but three players in this series -- Sidney Crosby (99 playoff points), Malkin (92) and Alfredsson (96) -- will have a chance to do so. ... Scratches for the Penguins included forward Jussi Jokinen and defensemen Mark Eaton and Simon Despres. Scratches for the Senators included forward Guillaume Latendresse and defenseman Mike Lundin.