There are fast starts, and then there's what the Ottawa Senators pulled off on Wednesday night in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final.
Within the first 12:52 of the hockey game, the Senators jumped out to a 4-0 lead on the Pittsburgh Penguins at Canadian Tire Centre, sending the home crowd into an absolute frenzy.
Mike Hoffman kicked things off with a great read on a ricocheting puck just 48 seconds in, beating Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury right in front to put the Sens ahead 1-0. But the fun really began around the 10-minute mark, when Marc Methot's attempted shot was errantly redirected into the net by Pittsburgh blueliner Ian Cole, expanding Ottawa's lead to 2-0.
Less than two minutes later, Clarke MacArthur found Derick Brassard in front with a gorgeous pass, and Brassard converted the alley-oop to make it 3-0. The boards registered another assist 24 seconds after that, sending the puck right onto the stick of Zack Smith, who wrapped the puck around from behind the net to give Ottawa a 4-0 advantage. It was Smith's first postseason goal in four years, and the three goals in 2:18 set a franchise record.
That would be it for Fleury, who was yanked and replaced by Matt Murray, making his first appearance in these playoffs. Murray had some better luck—that is, until Kyle Turris evaded his poke check and backhanded the Senators' fifth goal into the back of the net late in the middle frame.
Sidney Crosby scored on the power play 6:07 into the third period, but that never sparked a comeback and it didn't appear there was enough time for one, even if it had. Crosby and Phil Kessel each notched their 15th point of the playoffs, but Ottawa took the game by a 5-1 score. They now lead the series 2-1.
It wasn't all his fault, but there was little Fleury could do to prevent the onslaught that transpired in the first period. The players around him watched as the Senators capitalized on a host of bounces off the back boards that the Penguins—and their starting goalie—weren't ready for. The need for a jolt led Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan to send Murray in for his first action since April 6, though the damage had already been done at that point.
The last thing the Penguins need right now is a goaltending controversy, and head coach Mike Sullivan said he hasn’t made a decision about who will start the next game.
Meanwhile, Craig Anderson continued his steady play at the other end of the, stopping 25 of 26 shots, having stopped 80 of the 83 shots he's seen so far in the Eastern Conference Final—an absurd .964 save percentage.
Pittsburgh was struggling on the blue line before Justin Schultz went down in Game 2, and things didn't get better tonight. Mark Streit, who entered the lineup in Schultz's stead, assisted on the Pens' lone goal, but was otherwise atrocious without the puck. And he wasn’t the only one, either. Bad positioning by Penguin defenders allowed Ottawa to have more discretion in the offensive zone, something the Sens didn’t hesitate to take advantage of.
That’s a hole Pittsburgh absolutely must find a way to plug up if it’s to have a chance the rest of the way.
On a night when the Penguins’ depth was tested, thanks to a swath of injuries, the Senators were able to roll four lines deep. Ten players found their way onto the scoresheet for Ottawa, and five of them—Methot, Turris, Brassard, Hoffman and Bobby Ryan—recorded two points in the contest. For a team whose offense is centered around Erik Karlsson, it said a lot that the silky smooth defenseman had a single point on the night, an assist on Smith’s first-period goal. As Karlsson plays through a broken foot, his teammates stepping up to shoulder the load offensively shows that the Sens can take advantage of the opportunities their “boring” style of play creates. Three goals in a 2:18 span? The fans on their feet didn’t find that boring at all.