PITTSBURGH — Mike Sullivan calls the energetic back-and-forth on the Pittsburgh Penguins bench “a man’s argument.”
If his players have something to say, Sullivan wants them to get it out. Enter Phil Kessel, the mercurial forward with the blistering shot and occasionally blistering tongue.
Frustrated by an inability to get anything by Ottawa’s Craig Anderson, cameras caught Kessel pounding his fists and ordering his teammates to look for him.
Consider the message delivered. Kessel took a feed from Evgeni Malkin and zipped a wrist shot by Anderson 13:05 into the third period as the Penguins evened the Eastern Conference final with a 1-0 victory in Game 2 on Monday night. Game 3 is Wednesday in Ottawa.
“To be honest I think I yelled more than once tonight, so I don’t remember that time,” Kessel said with a laugh.
That’s just Kessel being Kessel. If anything, his outburst was simply the physical manifestation of Sullivan’s order to stop looking for the perfect shot and just start peppering Anderson looking for a sliver of space. The moment came with just less than 7 minutes remaining when Malkin gained the zone and found Kessel in the slot.
Kessel’s first shot smacked off Jean Gabriel Pagueau and came right back to him. It happened so quickly Anderson didn’t have enough time to reset, his left pad flailing as Pittsburgh’s game-long domination finally resulted in something tangible: a lead and a tie series.
“I caught an edge, simple as that,” said Anderson, who finished with 28 saves. “A defenseman or forward catches an edge, he falls down, nothing happens. I catch an edge, it’s in the net.”
That was enough for Marc-Andre Fleury, who stopped 23 shots for his second shutout of the playoffs and 10th of his postseason career. Fleury’s 62nd playoff win moved him ahead of Henrik Lundqvist for the most by an active goaltender, heady territory for a guy who lost his starting job to Matt Murray during the course of the season. Now Fleury is the main reason the Penguins are three wins from a return trip to the Cup finals.
This victory, however, wasn’t the byproduct of 60 minutes of brilliance. Fleury spent long stretches with nothing to do as the Penguins hemmed Ottawa in its own end. The Senators went nearly 19 minutes between the second and third period without recording a single shot, a testament to Pittsburgh’s ability to play keepaway on the other end of the ice.
“We were pleased with the way we dictated the terms out there,” Sullivan said.
A marked departure from Game 1, as Pittsburgh struggled to generate any sort of extended pressure in a 2-1 overtime loss. The Stanley Cup champions responded by heavily tilting the ice at times, remarkable considering they spent most of the night down two men after forward Bryan Rust and defenseman Justin Schultz left in the first period with injuries.
Rust was on the losing end of a clean check by Ottawa’s Dion Phaneuf 4:58 into the game. Schultz, who has become Pittsburgh’s most important blue liner with Kris Letang and Trevor Daley out, slid awkwardly into the end boards after getting bumped off the puck by Senators forward Mike Hoffman about midway through the first.
Sullivan offered no updates on either player.
Somehow, the Penguins found a way to make it work. The five remaining defensemen all played at least 20 minutes, including 24:49 from 37-year-old Ron Hainsey, who is in the playoffs for the first time in his career.
“After a while the rotation is kind of set and away you go,” Hainsey said. “You don’t have time to really mentally think about any mistakes good or bad, because you’re going right back out there. You don’t have any other choice.”
Pittsburgh’s ability to hog the puck hardly seemed to bother the Senators, who have proven repeatedly during their deepest playoff run in a decade they’re just fine sitting back and waiting for an opening to counter. It’s a style that produced both goals in Game 1.
This time, it eventually caught up to them.
“The third period they stepped it up a notch and we didn’t,” Ottawa coach Guy Boucher said. “They were surging. They were aggressive. We didn’t manage it as well.”
NOTES: Malkin’s assist gives him 20 points in the playoffs, tops in the NHL. … Both teams went 0 for 1 on the power play. … Penguins F Patric Hornqvist skated during pregame warmups but was scratched. Hornqvist has been dealing with a series of bumps and bruises incurred while blocking shots during the opening two rounds of the playoffs. … Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger made a rare appearance at PPG Paints Arena. Roethlisberger, who announced last month he’s returning for a 14th season, and the rest of the Steelers begin organized team activities next week.