PITTSBURGH — Bobby Ryan beat Marc-Andre Fleury on a breakaway 4:59 into overtime to give the Ottawa Senators a 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.
Ryan took control near center ice and raced by Pittsburgh defenseman Olli Maatta before flipping a backhander past Fleury to give the upstart Senators early control of the series.
The Senators improved 6-1 in overtime during the playoffs.
Game 2 is Monday night in Pittsburgh.
Ryan assisted on Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s first-period goal. Craig Anderson made 27 saves.
Evgeni Malkin’s goal late in the third period forced the extra period, but the defending Stanley Cup champions struggled to generate any consistent pressure. Fleury made 33 stops, but let Ryan deke him out of position as the Penguins fell behind in a series for the first time in the playoffs.
Pittsburgh only had 72 hours to recharge following a draining seven-game series against Washington. While the Penguins insisted they would have no problem turning the page 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.
For long stretches, it felt like the game could have been played in mid-December instead of mid-May, which was just fine by Ottawa. The Senators stressed they weren’t simply just happy to reach the NHL’s final four for the first time in a decade. While Ottawa hardly seemed overcome by the stage, the neutral zone trap coach Guy Boucher installed upon his hiring last spring didn’t exactly cause the Penguins problems.
Instead, Pittsburgh’s issues came after it gained the offensive zone. The team that led the NHL in scoring during the regular season and ousted the first and fourth overall teams during the first two rounds of the playoffs despite being outshot every game looked tentative, often passing up open looks in search of better ones that never materialized. Only the fourth line led by 40-year-old Matt Cullen — and not the top two led by Malkin and Sidney Crosby — seemed intent on getting to the Ottawa net.
The Penguins had plenty of chances to take control but produced nothing out of four first-period power plays, including 45 seconds of a 5-on-3 that went nowhere. Ron Hainsey hit the crossbar early and Patric Hornqvist dinged the left post but that’s as close as Pittsburgh would get to slipping one by Anderson.
The Senators focused not on creating extended pressure on Fleury but instead taking advantage of Pittsburgh’s mistakes. The breakthrough came 14:32 into the first when Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin left a blind drop pass behind his net that Ryan intercepted and slipped to Pageau in the right circle. The puck zipped over Fleury’s glove and suddenly Ottawa had the lead of both the game and the series.
The Senators last beat the Penguins in the playoffs in 2007 when Crosby and Malkin’s partnership was still in its infancy. Ottawa won just three games combined while falling to Pittsburgh in 2008, 2010 and 2013. This group has embraced the underdog role, buoyed by defenseman Erik Karlsson’s tireless brilliance and a style designed to frustrate opponents into submission.
It appeared it would be enough to put Pittsburgh away in regulation until Malkin redirected a Chris Kunitz shot between Anderson’s legs with 5:35 left in the third.
NOTES: Malkin moved past Jaromir Jagr and into third-place on Pittsburgh’s career playoff scoring list with 148 points. ... Ottawa’s Alexandre Burrows poked the puck out of Fleury’s glove and into the net just past the midway point but the referees had blown the play dead. The call was upheld upon review. ... Pageau’s eight goals are the second-most by a Senators player during a single postseason. Daniel Alfredsson scored 14 while leading Ottawa to the Cup finals in 2007. ... The Senators scratched F Viktor Stalberg, who Boucher said is “day to day” with an undisclosed injury. ... Pittsburgh scratched F Carl Hagelin (lower-body) and D Trevor Daley.