Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with his teammates after scoring a goal against Craig Anderson #41 of the Ottawa Senators during the first period in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at PPG PAINTS Arena on May 21, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH — The only candles blown out on Craig Anderson’s birthday may have been the fire inside that has carried the Ottawa Senators through these playoffs.
And, now, the Senators have a hit a major bump on the road to the Stanley Cup final.
Instead of pushing the Pittsburgh Penguins to the brink of elimination, the Senators will try to avoid that themselves Tuesday night in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference final after not even bothering to show up Sunday afternoon in a disgraceful 7-0 loss to the defending Stanley Cup champions at the PPG Paints Arena.
“It was just a crap game,” said centre Kyle Turris. “It happens. It was a crap game in every aspect. Forget about it, regroup and come back with our best push in the next game. Everybody comes in prepared and ready to go and today we were on heels and just not executing.”
It was the worst playoff loss in franchise history.
“We just got a lesson in how to play an Eastern Conference final playoff game,” said winger Bobby Ryan. “Everything we did was wrong. Everything they did was right, and they were better in every aspect of the game.
“I don’t know. The effort was abysmal from everybody. I thought the room was ready and everybody was ready in here. That’s why it’s so disconcerting.”
While it didn’t look good on Anderson to get pulled on his 36th birthday, he wasn’t the only one by a long-shot to blame. The Senators embarrassed themselves by coming apart at the seams as the Penguins poured on the offence to take a 3-2 series lead and move to within one victory of going to the final for the second straight year.
“I think they were just trying to change the momentum. They were flying, change the goalie and get something changed,” said Anderson.
Ottawa coach Guy Boucher pulled Anderson for just over a minute in the first period with the Penguins leading 3-0, put him back in, and then Scott Wilson made 4-0 for Pittsburgh. In the second, Mike Condon returned and finished the game after Anderson had allowed four goals on 14 shots.
Boucher said he was trying not to use a timeout.
“You want to keep your timeouts. You might need them later. I thought I’d just stall things and I thought I’d put him back in because he’s my man. When I saw where the game was going, he didn’t have to live that,” said Boucher.
The reality is the Senators are being beaten by a better team.
Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, Bryan Rust, Wilson, Matt Cullen, Trevor Daley and Olli Maata did the scoring for the Penguins while goalie Matt Murray had an easy afternoon. Carter Rowney had three assists on a day perfect for the Penguins to pile up the points.
The power play was 0-for-4, and is now in an 0-for-29 in the past 10 games. But that wasn’t the biggest issue on this day. The Senators lack of compete had to be the biggest area of concern. They didn’t look ready from the drop of the puck. That has to change, and it has to happen quick.
Cullen gave the Penguins a 5-0 lead only 1:54 into the second after what a disgraceful first period for Ottawa.
Really, though, Boucher should have just stuck with his plan when he pulled Anderson after he gave up his third goal on 12 shots. Rust tipped Nick Bonino’s shot from the slot after the Penguins had poured it on in the Ottawa zone with only 3:56 left in the period.
The Penguins pulled out to a 2-0 lead on the power play at 12:03 as Crosby scored his third of the series. He was able to tip a Daley shot from the top of the circle past Anderson on the stick side.
A turnover by Mike Hoffman in the Ottawa zone led to the opening goal by the Penguins. Rust, making his return, picked up the bad pass by Hoffman, and dropped the puck back to Maata, who fired it by Anderson on the stick side at 8:14 of the first.
“It’s not about what it means, it’s where the players are,” said Boucher. “It’s just like a plumber wakes up one day and has a great day and another day he’s not having a great day. It’s just one of those bad days. It’s not lack of preparation.”
Are they being beaten by a better team?
“We know they’re a better team. Everybody knows that on the planet. They’re the Stanley Cup champions. That’s no secret. To beat that team we need to be at our very, very best and weren’t,” said Boucher.
The only option for the Senators is to try to stave off elimination with a win at home on Tuesday night and force a Game 7 in Pittsburgh on Thursday night.