PITTSBURGH – By his own estimate, it took Ottawa’s Bobby Ryan a full 82 games to adjust to first-year coach Guy Boucher’s system.
Consider the forward all caught up. The rest of the consistently surprising Senators, too.
Ryan broke in alone on Marc-Andre Fleury and deked the Pittsburgh goalie before flipping a backhand into the open net 4:59 into overtime to give Ottawa a 2-1 victory Saturday night in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.
“I knew at some point those pucks I’d been chasing all year long, they were going to come,” Ryan said after picking up his fifth goal of the playoffs. “You just want to redeem yourself. You let your teammates down (during the regular season). Now I’m getting to redeem myself a little bit. That’s all I’m trying to do.”
The Senators improved to 6-1 when pushed beyond regulation during the postseason to give them early control of the best-of-seven series against the defending Stanley Cup champions, a matchup few outside of the guys in the red, white and black jerseys give them a shot of winning.
Not that it seems to bother Ottawa. One game in and the Senators have already done to the Penguins what Washington and Columbus could not: grab control of the series.
“There’s a lot of things to like but it’s just one game,” Boucher said. “We won’t get too excited.”
Boucher hasn’t backed away from the underdog role. If anything, he’s embraced it. A year ago the Senators missed the playoffs while the Penguins sprinted to the franchise’s fourth Stanley Cup. Now Ottawa finds itself on equal footing and hardly appears intimidated by the stage.
Ryan assisted on Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s first-period goal, Craig Anderson made 27 saves and the Senators turned away five Pittsburgh power plays.
Evgeni Malkin’s goal late in the third period forced overtime, but Pittsburgh struggled to generate any consistent pressure on Anderson. The problem wasn’t Ottawa’s neutral zone trap, designed to slow down teams, but a decided lack of aggression once Malkin, captain Sidney Crosby and rest of the Penguins crossed the Senators’ blue line.
“We’re looking for that next play instead of putting pucks at the net,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said.
The Penguins only managed 17 shots in five-on-five situations, compared to 32 by Ottawa. Pittsburgh also gave it away 17 times, two of which led to goals.
“We understand, they wait,” Malkin said. “They need one chance, two-on-one or three-on-two to score.”
The Penguins only had 72 hours to recharge following a draining seven-game series against Washington. While Pittsburgh insisted it would have no problem hitting reset with a spot in the Stanley Cup finals on the line, there was a dip in intensity both on the ice and in the stands.