OTTAWA, Ontario — Mike Hoffman and his Ottawa Senators teammates heard all the chatter on social media about their style of play, which some perceived as “boring.”
Their response? Well, LOL. And another big W.
Marc Methot, Derick Brassard and Zack Smith scored in a 2:18 span midway through the first period to chase goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and the Senators beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-1 on Wednesday night to take a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference finals.
Hoffman opened the scoring 48 seconds in, and the Senators blew it open against the sluggish Penguins a few minutes later with the fastest three goals in team playoff history. Kyle Turris made it 5-0 late in the second period.
“If we played a run-and-gun game that maybe some people would rather watch, we probably wouldn’t be here,” Hoffman said after routing the defending Stanley Cup champs. “So we use our assets and that’s what works.”
Sidney Crosby ended Craig Anderson’s shutout bid with a power-play goal in the third. Pittsburgh has scored a goal in each game in the series, dropping the opener 2-1 in overtime and winning the second 1-0.
“It was a bad start,” Crosby said. “You don’t want to get down at any point, but to get down 4-0 is digging a pretty big hole.”
Anderson finished with 25 saves. Fleury allowed four goals on nine shots, and Matthew Murray made 19 saves in relief.
Game 4 is Friday night in Ottawa.
Coach Guy Boucher has insisted on an extremely defensive style from the day he took over the Senators last May. It took until December for the team to fully embrace it, but that’s when everyone knew where they needed to be on the ice and what their responsibility was.
“At this level, you do what the coach says,” said Hoffman, who also played for Boucher in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. “We’re workers here. We don’t decide which system is put in place. We just have to go out there and execute it and do our job.
“That’s what we’re here to do.”
Hosting their first Eastern Conference final game in 10 years, the Sens came out flying. Hoffman got it going by capitalizing on Turris’ shot that bounced awkwardly wide of the goal. Hoffman stuffed the shot, standing to the left of the goal, just between the post and right pad of Fleury.
Brassard got the first of three when he snatched Erik Karlsson’s dump-in and swung wide of the Pittsburgh goal. Bobby Ryan eventually gained possession down low and found Methot with a crafty pass. While his initial shot was stopped, the rebound bounced off Penguins defenseman Ian Cole and into the net. It was the second goal of the playoffs for Methot after he went scoreless in 68 games during the regular season.
Brassard added his fourth of the postseason less than two minutes later, taking advantage of the Senators’ offensive zone pressure before slipping behind the aging Mark Streit for the shot that beat Fleury.
“We’re not bothered by what’s said about our team,” Brassard said. “Our focus is on what we need to do.”
Streit was making his playoff debut for the increasingly battered Pens, who lost Justin Schultz and Bryan Rust to upper-body injuries in Game 2. Pittsburgh, which did get Trevor Daley back from injury, also remained without injured winger Patric Hornqvist as well as No. 1 defenseman Kris Letang, who’s out for the season with a neck ailment.
Apparent miscommunication between the 39-year-old Streit and Cole led to Cole throwing the puck away shortly before Brassard’s goal.
Ottawa, looking crisp and confident, finished the flurry 24 seconds after Brassard’s goal, with Smith beating Fleury on a wrap-around, chasing Fleury from the game.
“It’s tough when you give up that many goals in the first period you don’t really give yourself or your team a chance in the game,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “It wasn’t like we gave up a lot of scoring chances, we didn’t, but they all seemed to go in the net.
“For me, the takeaway is you can’t lose the first period by four goals and think you’re going to win.”
In question now is whether Sullivan turns to Murray, who helped deliver the Pens a Cup last season and was excellent in his first full NHL season, for Game 4 or goes back to Fleury.
“I just think we’ve got to be more ready to play from the drop of the puck,” said Sullivan, who added that he hadn’t yet given thought to who would start in goal.
The crowd was delirious throughout the one-sided win and all the more so when their team got under the skin of the Penguins. At one point late in the first, Dion Phaneuf levelled former Maple Leafs teammate Phil Kessel. Ryan came by with a shove seconds later as Kessel waved his stick in the air at the Sens winger in apparent frustration.
Towel-waving fans chanted Kessel’s name and later cheered as Mark Stone mixed it up with Evgeni Malkin.