OTTAWA -- Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Playoffs showed the hockey world why the Pittsburgh Penguins, the defending Stanley Cup champions, are so dangerous.
Ottawa had Pittsburgh on the ropes, jumping out to a 3-0 lead before the game was half over. The Penguins best player, Sidney Crosby, was average at best on this night, finishing with just three shots, no points and a minus-2 rating in more than 21 minutes of ice time. No. 2 center Evgeni Malkin was even worse than that.
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Yet the Penguins found their way back from the brink of a Game 7 and finally put a game Senators team down for good. Pascal Dupuis' goal 9:56 into overtime gave the Penguins a 4-3 victory at Scotiabank Place in Game 6 that ended the Senators' season just two days after Ottawa had carved out an unlikely 4-3 triple-OT win in Game 5 that gave Pittsburgh quite the scare.
Pittsburgh used its depth to find its way into the second round. Grinder Matt Cooke had a pair of rebound goals sandwiched around a power-play tally from old vet Bill Guerin in the game's second half to forge a 3-3 tie and force overtime.
"It means we have room to improve, but I think you take some good signs away from having guys like Cookie and Dupes step up and score those big goals," Crosby said. "They have been doing a lot of good things throughout the year. For them to come up in this situation and come up big like that; that's huge and that builds confidence as a team
It was Dupuis who stepped into the hero's role, snapping home a quick feed from Jordan Staal, who had forced a turnover by young defenseman Erik Karlsson behind the Ottawa net before banking the puck of the back of the net to get himself the right angle to make the game-winning pass.
"Jordan made an unbelievable play in the corner," Dupuis said. "I thought he was going to give it to me right away, (but) he's strong enough that he decided to beat another one by himself and he slid it to me. Still not sure where the puck went; haven't seen it yet. But man, it's in and it's just an unbelievable feeling."
The puck went five-hole on Leclaire, ending a miracle story the Ottawa goalie had authored in the course of the past 48 hours. Called on to relief starter Brian Elliott in a Game 4 loss that put the Senators on the brink of elimination, Leclaire took the starter's job in Game 5 and stopped 56 shots in the triple-overtime win at Mellon Arena.
Leclaire stopped 20 off the 21 shots he faced in the first two periods Saturday night and looked poised to force a Game 7 on Tuesday in Pittsburgh.
But that's when the veteran Penguins decided enough was enough.
According to several accounts, veteran Craig Adams spoke up during the second intermission and told the team it needed to play better. It was a message that needed to be delivered.
"Craig Adams stepped up and said, ‘Boys, we can do this,'" Chris Kunitz told NHL.com. "We went out there and chipped away. Matt Cooke went out there and got a goal and the boys just pulled through. It was a great feeling on the bench; that's for sure."
Adams, who played less than 12 minutes in the game and is a fixture on the fourth line, didn't hesitate to step up and speak his mind -- despite the superstars and dominant personalities in the room.
"It was nothing, really," Adams said. "It was frustration. Frustrated with the way we were playing. I think we knew we could play a lot better and you can't let these opportunities pass you by. The boys, we did ourselves proud in the third period. We played a hell of a period and we took control."
Pittsburgh had 10 of the first 11 shots in the third period and finished with 18-4 advantage -- scoring twice.
Cooke, who had scored off a Staal rebound at 10:56 of the second period, tied the game with 7:36 left in regulation when he banged the rebound of a Mark Eaton shot past Leclaire. Suddenly, the Penguins felt they could wiggle away with a victory that was unimaginable in the first half of the game.
"You stay confident, but your changes of coming back aren't very good," Pittsburgh defenseman Brooks Orpik admitted. "We stuck with it and battled as hard as we could. Everybody stayed calm and composed, nobody was pointing fingers. We just kept playing the same way."
The Penguins' way won the Stanley Cup last season by winning all four series on the road. In the Final, Pittsburgh had to win the final two games against Detroit – including a Game 7 against the defending champions – to take the title away.
In this series, the Penguins won all three games played at Scotiabank Place, showing a mental toughness necessary to advance in the playoffs.
For the Senators, the goal by Dupuis ended building hopes of authoring a Cinderella story after landing a painful body blow to the champs in Game 5.
"It felt so good playing as good as we did in Game 5," said captain Daniel Alfredsson, whose goal at 9:48 of the middle period gave the Senators their 3-0 lead. "Today, again, I thought we could get it to a Game 7, but we couldn't. The way we were playing, it's tough to lose this. We should have been up more, but we couldn't get that last goal or that last break."
No. Ottawa couldn't get a last goal or break. Instead, the defending champions found a way to move onto the next step in defending their title.
Shift of the Night: With a little more than seven minutes left in the third period and Pittsburgh facing the prospect of losing a second elimination game, grinding forward Matt Cooke played a Matt Cooke shift and crashed the net to find the rebound of a Mark Eaton shot and slap it past Ottawa goalie Pascal Leclaire to bring Pittsburgh all the way back from a 3-0 deficit. It was Cooke's second rebound goal of the night.