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.
"That's the funny part about the playoffs, you just enjoy it for the rest of the night and then it's right back to work tomorrow and we expect next game to be even harder," said Iginla.
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 line for a split second before Colin Greening rushed to the crease to stab the puck across.
"I kind of misplayed that one and it went in," said Vokoun. "You have to forget about it. You don't want to dwell on it. You want to make sure you stop the next one."
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 then 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 goal tied Malkin with Boston's David Krejci for the league lead in playoff scoring with 13 points (3 goals, 10 assists).
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 Iginla in the crease. Although the pass was 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.
"You can always be better," said Anderson. "I could replay all the goals and say what I would do differently, but at the end of the day I didn't stop them."
The Penguins nearly took a three-goal lead into the second intermission because, with 11 seconds left in the period, a Morrow 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 instead of the Senators taking advantage of the power play, it was the Penguins icing 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.
"He's an outstanding penalty killer and he did that again tonight," said Pittsburgh head coach Dan Bylsma of Dupuis. "He scored the goal on the penalty kill, but his work on the penalty kill was just as impressive."
Neal was whistled for a third penalty later in the third period, but the Penguins killed off that penalty, too, just as they did with all six Ottawa power-play opportunities.
"We wanted to be better on the PK and we were tonight, so hopefully we can continue to do that," said Martin.
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.
"If we had any kind of stage fright or youthful jitters, that should
now be behind us and now it's up to us to make it a series," said Ottawa head coach Paul MacLean.
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 in the game, Malkin now has a league-leading 10 assists. ... 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 (94) 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.