Originally Published: May 15, 2017 9:45 p.m.
PITTSBURGH — Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 23 shots for his second shutout of the playoffs and the Pittsburgh Penguins evened their Eastern Conference final against Ottawa with a 1-0 victory in Game 2 on Monday night.
Phil Kessel beat Craig Anderson with a wrist shot 13:05 into the third period as Pittsburgh finally broke through against the Ottawa’s packed-in defense.
The Penguins dominated play for long stretches but couldn’t solve Anderson until late in the third. Kessel’s initial shot hit Ottawa’s Jean-Gabriel Pageau and came right back to him. Kessel fired hard and low by Anderson for his sixth — and certainly most important — goal of the playoffs.
Game 3 is Wednesday in Ottawa.
Anderson finished with 28 saves but received little help in front of him. The Senators went nearly 19 minutes without putting a shot on Fleury. When they eventually got going late, Fleury was more than up to the task.
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan challenged his team to stop searching for the perfect shot and just fire it at Anderson instead after Pittsburgh struggled to create any traffic in front of the goaltender during a 2-1 overtime loss in Game 1.
The Stanley Cup champions responded by heavily tilting the ice at times, remarkable considering they spent most of the night down two men after forward Bryan Rust and defenseman Justin Schultz left in the first period with injuries.
Rust was on the losing end of a clean check by Ottawa’s Dion Phaneuf 4:58 into the game. Rust slowly made his way to the bench under his own power but did not return.
Schultz, who has become Pittsburgh’s most important blue liner with Kris Letang and Trevor Daley out, slid awkwardly into the end boards after getting bumped off the puck by Senators forward Mike Hoffman about midway through the first. Just like Rust, Schultz walked down the runway to the training room and never made it back.
It hardly seemed to slow down the Penguins, who spent a large portion of the night playing keepaway from Ottawa in the offensive end.
Yet the Senators have proven repeatedly during their deepest playoff run in a decade they’re just fine sitting back and waiting for an opening to counter.
It’s a style that produced both goals in Game 1 and while they went long stretches without testing Fleury, it hardly mattered thanks to Anderson and a little bit of luck.
Jake Guentzel rang a shot off the post in and Sidney Crosby rifled one that glanced off the side of the net. Crosby then split Erik Karlsson’s legs with a pass to Guentzel right in front of the Ottawa crease and the 22-year-old rookie managed to flip it over Anderson, over the cross board, over the boards and into the protective netting.
In December, the Penguins poured in eight goals in a hectic, wide-open victory at home against Ottawa. The Senators, however, have embraced coach Guy Boucher’s neutral-zone clogging system and found a way to slow Pittsburgh down in the process.
The Penguins have scored just four goals combined in each of their last four games against the Senators. Kessel’s wrist shot on Monday, however, was enough to give the Penguins momentum heading north.
Both teams went 0 for 1 on the power play. ... Penguins F Patric Hornqvist skated during pregame warmups but was scratched. Hornqvist has been dealing with a series of bumps and bruises incurred while blocking shots during the opening two rounds of the playoffs. ... Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger made a rare appearance at PPG Paints Arena. Roethlisberger, who announced last month he’s returning for a 14th season, and the rest of the Steelers begin organized team activities next week.
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