OTTAWA, Ontario — Matt Murray was back — and so was Sidney Crosby.
Crosby had a goal and an assist, Murray made 22 saves in his first start of the playoffs and the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Ottawa Senators 3-2 on Friday night to even the Eastern Conference finals at 2-2.
Crosby had only one point as the defending champion Penguins dropped two of the first three, leading to questions about his health following a jarring concussion in the second round.
“I think he leads by example and I thought he had one of his best games tonight,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “But it doesn’t just stop with Sid, it goes down the bench.”
Murray started for the first time in more than six weeks.
“All I can really do is kind of jump in and try not to think about it,” Murray said. “Just try and play with the flow of the game and kind of let yourself get lost in the game a little bit. I thought I did a pretty good job of that tonight. There’s a lot of ways I could have been a lot better I thought, but all together felt good about the game.”
Sullivan turned to Murray after Marc-Andre Fleury was chased in the first period Wednesday night in the Penguins’ 5-1 loss in Game 3.
“I thought Matt was solid,” Sullivan said. “He made some timely saves for us when we needed it. He has a calm demeanor about him. I thought he was tracking the puck extremely well. And certainly, he made a couple of key saves for us at key times.”
Brian Dumoulin and Olli Maatta added goals to help Pittsburgh take a 3-0 lead midway through the second period. Clarke MacArthur and Tom Pyatt scored for Ottawa.
“They were the better team tonight for two periods and they deserved the game,” Senators coach Guy Boucher said.
Game 5 is Sunday in Pittsburgh.
Murray made a strong stop on Mike Hoffman less than two minutes into the game and denied Viktor Stalberg on a pair of follow-up opportunities. The goalie made maybe his best stop on Derick Brassard’s backhander, kicking the shot away with his right pad.
“He made a really big save early on with his leg save when the guy kind of went around him after a rebound and I think right after that our team went into the offensive side and really played at the puck and gave us that momentum,” teammate Chris Kunitz said. “I think we did an all-around good job tonight.”
Fleury started the first 15 games for Pittsburgh with Murray mostly sidelined by injury.
“I don’t want to make this about myself,” Fleury said after the game. “We scored some goals. That was nice. We won. It’s good.”
Pittsburgh opened the scoring with 46 seconds left in the first period when Maatta went down the left side and fired a short-side shot past on goalie Craig Anderson. Crosby set up the play.
Pittsburgh’s already battered defense took another blow late in the first when Bobby Ryan hit Chad Ruhwedel. Ian Cole immediately throttled Ryan, as Ruhwedel was down on the ice. Ryan somehow escaped a charging penalty on the play, and Cole drew the only call for roughing.
The Pens are already without Kris Letang, who is done for the playoffs, and Justin Schultz, who missed the last two games with an upper-body injury.
Crosby’s brilliance showed up again midway through the second on a power play after Jean-Gabriel Pageau ripped off the Pittsburgh star’s helmet in a scrum around the net.
Crosby stationed himself right on the doorstep to Anderson’s left, his right leg hugging the post for support. That didn’t allow him to score on the initial setup from Jake Guentzel, but helped him to bang in the follow-up for the 2-0 lead. Guentzel had two assists.
Dumoulin made it 3-0 less than four minutes later with a shot from the left point that caromed in off Ottawa defenseman Dion Phaneuf’s skate.
Ottawa had mostly neutralized the high-powered Penguins in the first three games, holding them to just three goals — a mark they equaled in less than 32 minutes of Game 4. Pittsburgh seemed to find more speed, got more shots in tight and capitalized on opportunities around the net.
Following that initial flurry in the first, the Senators had little going right until the last two minutes of the second when Ryan found MacArthur with a crafty backdoor pass for Ottawa’s first goal.
The Senators pulled within one with five minutes left when Pyatt got a skate on Erik Karlsson’s already-deflected point shot.
“It’s just a little frustrating right now,” Karlsson said. “They’re doing a good job in controlling our breakouts and when we get it we don’t really get the opportunities that we want.”