There is no such thing as smooth sailing in the modern Stanley Cup playoffs.
Even in series that go just four or five games, there are pivotal moments that can spin a postseason matchup one way or the other. For instance, the San Jose Sharks swept the Vancouver Canucks in the first round, but the Sharks had to get a last-minute goal to force overtime in Game 2, which they eventually won. If the Canucks hold onto that late lead, who knows where the series goes from there.
The Ottawa Senators are banking on the promise of a similarly striking comeback in Game 3 of their second-round battle with the Pittsburgh Penguins. After getting outplayed for most of the first two games and all of the third, the Sens netted an improbable equalizer off the stick of franchise mainstay Daniel Alfredsson with 30 seconds to go, then eventually prevailed in the second sudden-death session.
Pittsburgh isn’t alone in suddenly rough waters lately. The defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings dropped an OT decision Saturday in San Jose, neutralizing any momentum the Kings thought they had from an exhilarating third-period rally in Game 2. The Sharks will try to tie their Western Conference semifinal at two wins each Tuesday night.
Boston (2-0) and Detroit (2-1) have each jumped on top in their second-round series, but both teams can be considered fortunate to be alive in the Stanley Cup chase. The Bruins had to score three goals in 11 minutes to survive against the lively Maple Leafs in Game 7 of the first round, while the Red Wings needed overtime in Game 6 vs. the Ducks to even get a shot at a winner-take-all seventh, which they won in Anaheim.
All of this is important to remember, if only to put the Penguins’ current “predicament” in perspective. Although it’s tempting to look back at Sunday night and think of what might have been, Pittsburgh still has a chance to claim a 3-1 series lead Wednesday night, with Game 5 looming back at Consol Energy Center on Friday night. As I wrote yesterday, another effort like Game 3′s should be more than enough to regain a two-game edge on the Senators.
Recent Pittsburgh playoff vintage reminds of squandered opportunities that led to ultimate triumph. In 2009 alone, the Penguins misfired on chances to eliminate the Flyers (Game 5 – first round) and Capitals (Game 6 – second round) on home ice, only to follow up with a victory in the following contest.
Interestingly enough, the Pens’ most recent series against the Sens featured one of those bounce-back performances. Matt Carkner’s triple-overtime winner in Game 5 of the 2010 first round kept Ottawa alive at Mellon Arena, but Pascal Dupuis capped a four-goal surge in Game 6 with a sudden-death strike to close out the series.
Many of the Penguins remain from the ’09 and ’10 postseason runs, but even if this is their first Stanley Cup experience, they know from observation that responding to adverse situations is key to advancing. The Penguins get another chance to prove that Wednesday night at Scotiabank Place.