The Penguins could be forgiven if they had looked past the Ottawa Senators with games against the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers closing out the season. It appeared to be the case too as the Senators controlled play early and built a 3-0 lead early in the 2nd period. But for the 2nd straight time starting a game down 3-0, the Pens were able to roar back to take home two points. Carl Hagelin and Sidney Crosby had two goals, Nick Bonino added 3 assists, and the Penguins beat the Ottawa Senators 5-3 to cut the magic number for clinching 2nd place in the Metro to two. The win now makes it 7 in a row for the Penguins and 13 wins in their last 14 games.
The 1st period was uncharacteristic for the Penguins after weeks of dominating the teams they've faced. The Senators got an early power play after Mike Hoffman blew past Ben Lovejoy on the rush. Lovejoy resorted to hooking Hoffman to slow him down, but the Penguins' penalty kill was able to prevent Ottawa from getting much in the way of quality chances. The teams would return to even strength, and neither team seemed to be clicking early on. Pittsburgh in particular didn't seem to be driving play at the same high level they've become accustomed to in recent weeks, and it would be the Senators opening the scoring midway through the period. After winning a faceoff in the Pittsburgh zone, Erik Karlsson fired a shot pass across the ice from the right half wall. It wouldn't make it to his target, as Patric Hornqvist was able to break up the pass, but in the process of doing so he redirected the puck behind Matt Murray and into the Penguins' net.
The Pens had a great chance to tie the game moments later, as Carl Hagelin tried feeding a cross crease pass to Justin Schultz driving the slot, but they weren't able to connect and Andrew Hammond froze the puck. The continued to increase the pressure late in the period. Matt Cullen would have a couple chances with under a minute to go, but Hammond had no problems squaring up to to the shots, and Sidney Crosby rang a shot off the crossbar with seconds left on the clock. The teams would go into the first intermission with Ottawa holding the 1-0 lead, and it would be the Senators who would come out and extend their lead early in the 2nd period, again on an unfortunate bounce. Hoffman took a shot from the bottom of the right circle that looked to be going wide, but it hit off the butt end of Murray's stick and redirected into the net. The Senators would strike against just 1:12 after scoring their second goal. Zack Smith took the puck down the left side on the rush and sniped a shot over Murray's shoulder to make the score 3-0 Ottawa just minutes into the period.
It was about as bad of a start to the game as the Penguins have been playing well lately, and it would put their resilient nature to the test. They'd get an opportunity to chip into the lead minutes later when Buddy Robinson was whistled for boarding Justin Schultz, and while Pittsburgh wasn't able to get the power play goal they did score seconds after the penalty expired when Hornqvist shot the puck on the wraparound and whacked his rebound under Hammond's right pad and over the goal line. Pittsburgh would get another great chance moments later when Matt Cullen and Tom Kuhnhackl had a 2-on-1 rush. Cullen's shot went wide and created a great opportunity for the Senators on a a Mika Zibanejad breakaway, but Murray was able to stand tall with the save.
Buddy Robinson would be called for another penalty, this time tripping Hornqvist in the Ottawa zone, and the Pittsburgh power play would be back on the ice trying to cut the lead to one. It was the Senators who got the better chances on the Pens' man advantage in the first minute, and they did a good job of preventing Pittsburgh from being able to set up anything in the offensive zone before Robinson came back onto the ice. The Penguins would keep pressing for the next goal, and they'd get it with just under 5 minutes left in the 2nd period. Crosby won the faceoff back to Kris Letang and drove the net. The puck bounced around in traffic in front of the net and came to Crosby, who was able to backhand it into the wide open net behind Hammond.
After falling behind 3-0 minutes into the period, Pittsburgh would be able to spend the last few minutes of the 3rd period pushing to tie the game heading into the second intermission. The wouldn't get the goal, but they'd take the momentum into the locker room with hopes of getting it done in the 3rd period. It wasn't the start to the period that they were hoping for, as Letang was called for tripping Karlsson 41 seconds into the 3rd to put the Senators on the power play. They'd kill it off, and it would be Pittsburgh getting the big next goal off the stick of, who else, Carl Hagelin. Phil Kessel forced Hoffman into a turnover behind the Ottawa net, and Nick Bonino grabbed the puck in the corner and fed Hagelin driving the center lane. While Hammond was able to stop Hagelin's one timer, Hagelin was able to pounce on the rebound to tie the game 3-3.
They'd pull even, but a pair of penalties would give the Senators an extended 5-on-3 advantage with a chance to go back in front. Oskar Sundqvist was called for high sticking Zibanejad, and just 28 seconds later Eric Fehr was sent off for elbowing Cody Ceci. With the two man advantage, Ottawa would begin teeing off shots at the Pittsburgh net, with Hoffman ringing a shot off iron. The Senators would continue working the umbrella, and Hoffman would have another near miss that hit off Murray and off the post. After an incredible job by Murray and the PK unit, Fehr hit the ice to get the teams back to even strength with the score still tied.
There'd be a scary moment midway through the 3rd when Ben Harpur cleared the puck up the wall from the corner and caught Conor Sheary in the face with his follow through. Sheary would immediately fall to the ice, and after struggling to get up he'd skate to the bench clutching his right eye. Seconds later Murray would get caught out of position, and Alex Chiasson backhand a shot towards the wide open net. Out of nowhere, Kris Letang came soaring in to get his stick on the puck and cleanly clear it out of harm's way. The work on the 5-on-3 and by Letang were great efforts to keep Pittsburgh in a position to score the goal ahead goal, and they were rewarded with 6 minutes remaining in the 3rd. Bonino picked off a Karlsson pass in the Ottawa zone and found Hagelin driving the slot. Hagelin tried to backhand a pass to Kessel driving the far post, but sometime's it's better to be lucky than good as his pass found the lower left corner of the net and went in to give Pittsburgh their first lead of the game, 4-3. And while the Senators would get some great pressure with Hammond pulled, it was Crosby tacking on the empty netter in the closing seconds to close out yet another win.
The Penguins managed to grind out the victory despite the rare occurrence of finishing on the wrong side in possession, managing only a score-adjusted 48.8 CF%. Either way, the win puts the Penguins on the verge of wrapping up home ice advantage of the first round of the playoffs. A win Thursday against the Capitals will allow them to clinch, though the Rangers missing out on two points and the Islanders losing one point will also get the job done. The Rangers and Islanders will meet Thursday night as well, so Pittsburgh will be guaranteed in getting some help no matter the outcome.