By all measures, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Game 3 loss to the Ottawa Senators on Sunday night was about as brutal as it gets.
After playing an airtight defensive game, especially in the third period, the Penguins allowed 40-year-old Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson to score a game-tying shorthanded goal with 29 seconds left. Pittsburgh proceeded to pepper Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson with great chances in overtime, only to watch Colin Greening slide a rebound around the otherwise-stellar Tomas Vokoun to win the game in the second extra period.
The Alfredsson goal was particularly vexing, as the Penguins couldn’t decide whether to push for another goal or sit back and defend. In lieu of picking one or the other, the Pens did neither. With plenty of room to operate, Milan Michalek made an excellent pass to the slot, and Alfredsson showed his hands haven’t slowed with age.
Welcome to the Stanley Cup playoffs. Yes, the Penguins did get an unanticipated challenge from the New York Islanders in the first round, but they hadn’t lost a postseason game they deserved to win until Sunday.
Coach Dan Bylsma can be criticized for sticking with his usual power play unit in the waning moments of Game 3, but he shouldn’t hesitate to go back to the same lineup for Game 4. With the exception of possibly re-inserting the recuperating Joe Vitale or Jussi Jokinen on Wednesday night, it’s tough to justify any changes to a 18-man unit that executed as well as the Penguins have this spring.
It’s certainly no time to tinker with the 19th man. Vokoun looked as solid and dependable as ever, perhaps his best game since replacing Marc-Andre Fleury for Game 5 against the Islanders. Hiccups in Games 1 and 2 of this series left the door ajar for doubts to creep in about Vokoun’s long-term viability, but the 36-year-old is clearly trending upward after holding it down for almost 90 minutes in Game 3.
Would it have been nice to win 1-0 in regulation? Yes. Would it have been swell to beat Anderson on just one of the several golden scoring opportunities the Penguins generated in overtime? Of course. Either of those scenarios would’ve crushed the Senators and made Game 4 a matter of delivering the death blow.
Instead, Ottawa now has renewed life. Although the two-day break between games will aid in the recovery process – both physically and mentally – Wednesday night will be another true battle, with the winning team feeling great about its chances to advance.
If the Penguins play like they did in Game 3, with the exception of one glaring lapse, they will head back to Pittsburgh in command.