After a 7–0 loss in Game 5 threatened to bring their unexpected playoff run to an unceremonious end, the Senators recaptured their knack for the opportunistic goal and rallied around a standout performance from goaltender Craig Anderson to grind out a 2–1 Game 6 win over the Penguins that reduced the Eastern Conference bracket to one game for a trip to the Stanley Cup Final.
After Evgeni Malkin opened the scoring early in the second period thanks to a relentless individual effort that cashed in a Pittsburgh flurry, Bobby Ryan snapped Ottawa's 0-for-29 dry spell on the power play with a 5-on-3 goal at 13:15 of the second period to bring the Senators level. Less than two minutes into the third, Mike Hoffman beat Matt Murray with a glove-side slap shot in transition, and Ottawa's defense circled the wagons around Anderson to neutralize the Penguins' attempts to force overtime in the final minutes.
Game 7 is Thursday night in Pittsburgh. Here are the three biggest stories from the nip-and-tuck Senators win that set it up:
The game got off to a choppy start, with an abundance of stoppages that kept both teams from compiling sustained pressure, but the Senators could only hold Pittsburgh off the scoresheet for so long. Three minutes into the second period, Penguins defenseman Trevor Daley appeared to have scored from his knees in the crease after his first futile whacks at a loose puck down low had sent Anderson sliding back into his own net.
Senators coach Guy Boucher's challenge overturned the goal, but not everyone was convinced. To be sure, there's a point in Daley's frantic swipes at the puck where the extended follow-through of his stick appears to force Anderson off his spot, but with Sens defenseman Erik Karlsson bearing down on Daley and tying things up down low it's tough to be certain how directly the offensive player had affected Anderson's position when the puck crossed the line. Although Malkin (who was the Penguins' best player on the ice on Tuesday night) got the goal back two minutes later, the final margin will make sure that close call stings for a while.
After coming up huge time and again with four goals and seven total points in Ottawa's first-round series win over the Bruins, Ryan had found the back of the net just once since the beginning of the conference semis. He brought the Canadian Tire Centre to life with his game-tying power play goal at 13:15 of the second period, floating into open space after causing confusion in the slot for a one-timer that beat Murray to his right post.
In Boucher's structure-first system, Ryan and breakout playoff star J.G. Pageau have been responsible for the bulk of the creative vision among Ottawa's forwards (Erik Karlsson supplies enough for the entire blue line). Power plays can run scarce in Game 7s, but the Senators may get a chance to build off of Ryan's slump-breaker as they head back to PPG Paints Arena, where they haven't scored in the last 120 minutes of game time.
The Senators did a good job cleaning up loose pucks in front of Anderson for most of the night, but the Ottawa netminder rarely had time to breathe. Pittsburgh outshot its host 46–30, won 59% of the faceoffs and forced several early icings that helped set the tone for the night, yet they still couldn't crack Anderson a second time.
Meanwhile, Penguins goalie Matt Murray had stopped the last 43 shots he faced before sliding over a beat too late on Ryan's 5-on-3 goal and then a timely screen from Sens defenseman Fredrik Claesson kept him from tracking Hoffman's game-winner. The battle between the pipes is trending in the right direction for Ottawa ahead of a winner-take-all game in which they'll need almost everything to go their way.