So much for the Pittsburgh Penguins coasting into their second straight Stanley Cup Final.
Two days after completely dominating the Ottawa Senators with a 7-0 win in Game 5 for a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference finals, the Pens fell back to Earth in Ottawa. Despite a 23-shot second period and dominant start to Game 6 action on Tuesday night, the Pens fell 2-1, setting up a decisive Game 7 matchup Thursday night in Pittsburgh.
Evgeni Malkin gave maximum effort to put Pittsburgh up 1-0 early in the second period, and the Pens did their best to shrug off some extracurricular contact from Guy Boucher's chippy defense, piling up more than 45 shots against Craig Anderson.
But the Senators, with Erik Karlsson and Derick Brassard back in the swing of things following Monday's blowout loss, kept plugging away and finally found success on a power play, knotting the game at 1-1 with a Bobby Ryan score. Ottawa did not exactly look pretty on other extra-man advantages but still got the job done with Ryan's late second-period goal, which preceded this beauty of a follow-up slapshot from Mike Hoffman early in the third:
That kind of shot just cannot be scripted (nor defended, in most cases), and it just so happened to put a damper on an otherwise solid outing from Murray.
Speaking of goalies, Anderson may have been the gem of the night, halting all but one of Pittsburgh's 46 shots a game after he was pulled twice during a 7-0 defeat. Back-to-back saves on several occasions made him the stud of Ottawa's oft-stingy defense on Tuesday night, and considering the veteran's history of success in preventing goals in elimination games, he figures to be a big name to watch when the two sides square off again Thursday for a shot at taking on the Nashville Predators in the finals.
Where do the Pens and Sens go from here?
Pittsburgh had all the momentum entering Game 6, following up a trio of one-goal performances with a much-needed offensive outburst. And while they have rebounded exactly when they've needed to this postseason (see: second-round rebound vs. the Washington Capitals), allowing themselves to fall victim to Ottawa's physicality and failing to put more than one puck past Anderson on Tuesday was not promising. At the very least, it forces the team to endure another go-round with the bruising Sens when it could, instead, be resting ahead of a showdown with Nashville.
The Senators, meanwhile, have the Penguins right where they want them. Dropping Game 5 by seven goals was a virtual death sentence for the team in the eyes of many prognosticators, especially considering Pittsburgh's postseason history -- and the Pens' ability to score at will when they find space. Instead, Boucher's defense has come back to life, even if it benefited from some scrappy and debatable shots on Pittsburgh, pushing the Penguins to the brink and giving the Sens a final shot at toppling the defending champs with hard-nosed blue-line play.