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June 26, 2019
First Round Recap: Ottawa vs Pittsburgh
by Michael Menser Dell, Editor-in-Chief
Ottawa Senators (7) vs Pittsburgh Penguins (2): Pittsburgh won series, 4-0
Shortly before the series started, the brilliant Ottawa brain trust decided to place a mural outside the visiting dressing room at Scotiabank Place. It was a picture of the Senators and Penguins shaking hands after the Sens dispatched the Birds in five games last year. Yeah, good decision. Gee, I wonder why the Senators never win the Cup? They seem so smart.
Well, now the Penguins can have their own mural. Pittsburgh gained sweet revenge, sweeping the Sens away like the trash they are. (Sunshine) Ottawa!
The Senators were a dead team walking, and the Pens wasted little time in putting them out of their misery. Pittsburgh dominated every aspect of the series. The difference from last year to this year was significant, and it was profound.
With Gary Roberts leading the way, the Penguins blitzed the Senators 4-0 in Game One, beating them up and sitting them down. It was a whoopin'.
Game Two was more of the same, as the Birds waddled out to a 3-0 lead behind the offensive wizardry of Kid Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. But the Sens somehow managed to string together three straight garbage goals to make things interesting.
Thankfully, Ryan Malone scored twice in the waning moments to make the final 5-3. But don't be fooled; the game was nowhere near competitive. Pittsburgh launched 53 shots on net, and probably half were glorious scoring chances. Martin Gerber was ridiculous. The Pens could have easily had a Happy Meal.
Daniel Alfredsson returned from his knee injury in Game Three. He provided an emotional lift and little else. But give the Sens credit; they competed hard for the first two periods, carrying a 1-1 score into the third. That's when Kid Crosby delivered, shredding the Ottawa defense just 12 seconds into the final frame to put the Pens in front 2-1.
Crosby's goal was such an overwhelming display of speed and talent, it sapped Ottawa's will. You could see the Senators looking at each other in disbelief. While they were busy trying to figure out what happened, Jordan Staal cashed in a mere 1:18 later to extend the lead. Marian Hossa put home his first of the series to remove all doubt and secure the 4-1 win.
Ottawa had a fairly decent effort in Game Four, but even though the score was tight, I never felt the Senators had a chance to win. Jarkko Ruutu scored late in the second to put Pittsburgh in front 2-1, racing up ice on a partial breakaway and spinning around to surprise Gerber with a low shot. Kid Crosby closed the scoring with an empty-netter. There was much rejoicing.
But, wow, who would have thought Mark Bell would ever affect a playoff series?
As good as Gerber was, Marc-Andre Fleury was even better. The Flower was in full bloom against the Sens, allowing just five goals on 112 shots for a spectacular .955 save percentage.
Fleury has been a new man since returning from his ankle injury. And it's more than the white pads. Fleury seems to have matured 10 years in the span of a few weeks. He's no longer jumping around the paint like a monkey on a high wire, relying solely on his reflexes and uncanny quickness to make saves. Instead, his movements are measured and precise, nothing is wasted. He's very quiet in net. He's standing up and only dropping butterfly when necessary.
And don't overlook the influence of Ty Conklin. It's obvious Fleury spent his downtime studying Conklin's ability to move the puck, and it's definitely paid off. He's far more confident when venturing from the crease.
Confidence is truly the key to Fleury right now. Not only is he confident, but his teammates are supremely confident in him. It's evident in their play. And listen, I'm the biggest Fleury fan there is, but even I have to admit the kid made me nervous. Not anymore. There were times during the Ottawa series when I thought there was no way in hell the Senators would ever beat Fleury. Even when they managed to luck a goal behind him, I was just as confident they'd never do so again.
Of course, it's easy to be confident when you've got Kid Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on your team. Both were sensational against the Senators. Crosby's goal in Game Three ripped out Ottawa's heart. Compared to Malkin, who was electrifying whenever he touched the puck, Sid was actually somewhat subdued. Yet at the end of the series, he still led the team with eight points.
Malkin's linemates, Petr Sykora and Ryan Malone, were also quite heroic. Sykora fired home three goals, including two on wicked one-timers. Malone was enormous in Game Two when the Pens nearly squandered the 3-0 lead. Had Malone not scored the winner late in the third, who knows how the series would have ended? It could have been a crippling emotional wound for the young Birds.
Yet Malone did score the goal. The Penguins didn't lose. And that's the difference between this years' team and last year's squad. This year's version knows how to win.
Finally, no list of heroes would be complete without Gary Roberts. Despite missing the last two games and playing a total of 22:39 in the entire series, Roberts set the tone, scoring 1:08 into Game One and physically punishing the Senators at every turn. Fourteen of Roberts' 32 career playoff goals have been scored against Ottawa, making him only the second player/owner in NHL history behind Mario Lemieux.
Oh, and I guess Daniel Alfredsson deserves credit. He was rather heroic in attempting to play Games Three and Four with a torn MCL. Beware flying pigs.
Bryan Murray was his usual imbecilic self, busting out his tired dime-store psychology before the series even started. Accusing Pittsburgh of tanking its final game was the act of a foolish, desperate man. But he knew his club was outgunned, and he was merely doing what he could to try and gain an edge. So it's tough to criticize him too much for it, no matter how preposterous the premise.
Murray makes the weasel list, though, for his ineffective leadership throughout the season. He allowed Ray Emery's selfish shenanigans to erode the team from within. Murray's original sin was giving a stooge like Emery big money, and he only compounded the problem by not swinging the hammer the second Emery began acting the fool. This team was doomed the moment Murray chose Emery over John Paddock. He should have kept Paddock and cut Emery.
Did you hear Emery after the series? It was shameful. He refused to take any blame for the playoff loss. Wrong answer, jerky.
Hey, Ray, guess what buddy? You're the reason this team fell apart. Accept it. Own it. Move on. And when I say move on, I don't mean try to make amends next year or anything. I mean move on. Beat it. Get your sorry ass out of town. You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here.
And that brings us to the Bobbsey Twins. Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza are frauds. They were invisible the entire series, combining for no goals, two assists, and a minus-9 in the four games.
How is that possible? It's not like this was their first rodeo. They knew what to expect; they knew what it takes; and they failed miserably.
Yeah, I realize losing Alfredsson hurt, but Crosby and Malkin don't have Alfredsson on their team, either. It was just embarrassing. And it wasn't like they were buzzing around the ice creating scoring chances only to be stoned by Fleury. They were nonexistent. It was embarrassing. Had Spezza and Heatley matched the intensity of Shean Donovan and Cody Bass, the Sens might still be playing.
How long does Spezza have to be in the league before he learns to protect the puck? And would it bust his ass to backcheck? C'mon, dude, just one time. Try it, you might like it. Can we just call Spezza the modern day Craig Janney and be done with it?
I'd write more about Heatley, but I honestly can't remember seeing him once the entire series. I'm still not convinced he played. Prove it. I dare you.