OTTAWA, Ontario — Craig Anderson and the Ottawa Senators bounced back nicely two days after a blowout loss put them on the brink of elimination.
Anderson stopped 45 shots, Mike Hoffman scored the tiebreaking goal early in the third period and the Senators beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 Tuesday night to force a decisive Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The 36-year-old Anderson was coming off a pair of rough outings, including Sunday when he was pulled after yielding four goals in Ottawa’s 7-0 loss in Game 5 at Pittsburgh.
“You can’t change what happens in the past,” said Anderson, who has credited work with a sports psychologist early in his career for helping him manage the mental side of the game. “From that moment on you have to look forward and get ready for the next one.”
Hoffman fired a slap shot through traffic off a pass from Fredrik Claesson to put the Senators ahead at 1:34 of the third. Bobby Ryan also scored a rare power-play goal for Ottawa.
It was quite a response after the drubbing in the previous game.
“I think the biggest message for us was if somebody told us back in training camp in September that we’d have an opportunity to win Game 6 in the Eastern Conference final at home in front of our fans we would’ve taken it,” Ryan said. “So let’s not dwell, let’s not kick ourselves and put our heads down. Let’s embrace this opportunity to extend this for two more days together and go from there.”
Evgeni Malkin gave Pittsburgh, vying for its second straight trip to the Stanley Cup Final, the lead early in the second period and Matt Murray finished with 28 saves.
“I thought we played a real good game,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “I thought we dominated zone time. We had lots of chances. We didn’t score tonight. The puck didn’t go in the net, but if we continue to play the game that way, then I believe we’ll get the result.”
Game 7 is Thursday night in Pittsburgh, with the winner advancing to face the Nashville Predators for the championship.
Ottawa was primarily looking for a return to structure in Game 6, beginning with a smoother start — which they got. Notable in a scoreless opening period were two effective penalty kills, one of which saw Viktor Stalberg get the best opportunity short-handed.
Pittsburgh had four shots with the man advantage, but Anderson stopped them all. It was evident early that he had his game back in this one. He stopped Nick Bonino off a rebound in transition, Scott Wilson off a deflected shot by Phil Kessel, and Bonino again when Kyle Turris gave the puck away.
Anderson then stopped 22 of 23 shots in the second period.
“I think Anderson was the reason that they got this one, he played big for them,” Murray said. “But in our room we just focus on what we need to do. We played really well, we just didn’t get the bounces and weren’t able to put one home.”
Anderson’s performance was a reminder for Senators coach Guy Boucher of why he took the job with Ottawa in the first place last May.
“I’ll be honest with you, if I didn’t have a No. 1 goalie, I didn’t want the job,” Boucher said. “I’ve lived it for quite a few years, and it’s hell when you don’t have it because everything you do turns to darkness, and there’s nothing that really matters when you don’t have a real No. 1 goaltender.
“It’s like a quarterback in football and a pitcher in baseball, and we have it,” Boucher added.
Murray was also sharp. The 22-year-old, who replaced Marc-Andre Fleury after Game 3, made maybe his finest save of the first on Derick Brassard, who found an open lane down the middle of the ice following a pass from Ryan.
The Penguins appeared to have opened the scoring just over three minutes into the second, but Trevor Daley was deemed to have interfered with Anderson following an Ottawa challenge.
Less than two minutes later though, Pittsburgh took the 1-0 lead anyway off a few moments of brilliance from Malkin. The playoff scoring leading (24 points) bounced off a check from Zack Smith behind the goal and after being stopped on his drive to the net, followed up with a nifty backhand rebound to beat Anderson.
It was the 153rd career playoff point in 142 games for Malkin — three back of Sidney Crosby for second among active players behind Jaromir Jagr — who had been jarring with Hoffman a few minutes earlier.
The Senators had little going until a lengthy 5-on-3 advantage for 1:24 just past the midway point of the period. The Ottawa power play, which had gone 0 for 29 in the previous 10 games, came through with Ryan ultimately wiring a one-timer short-side to tie the score.
It was the sixth goal and 15th point of the playoffs for Ryan, who is second on the Senators behind captain Erik Karlsson (16 points).