PITTSBURGH — The regular season was a bundle of frustration for Ottawa winger Bobby Ryan. He was snakebitten. He was hurt. He’s exorcizing all of that in the playoffs.
“It felt great obviously to come through in an important and crucial moment,” Ryan said Saturday night after he scored at 4:59 of overtime to give the Senators a 2-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final at PPG Paints Arena.
Ottawa carried a one-goal lead on Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s score through most of the game before Evgeni Malkin tied it late in regulation.
Ryan had 13 goals and a career-low 25 points in 62 games during the season. He now has five goals and 10 points in 13 playoff games.
“When you’re an offensive player and you’re doing all the right things but you’re not finishing and that’s what it was with Bobby … he just wasn’t finishing and it gets to be a mental block and you start thinking you’re not doing the right things,” Senators coach Guy Boucher said. “For me, now it’s the finishing part.”
On Saturday’s winner, Ryan, who earlier had an assist, came out of a tangle along the right-wing boards after getting the puck from Pittsburgh defenseman Olli Maatta for a short breakaway and roofed a shot past goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
“I was kind of lucky that the puck found me,” Ryan said. “When you get in there, you look for some kind of move. I felt fortunate it found the net.”
Fleury finished with 33 saves. Craig Anderson made 27 saves for the Senators, who improved to 6-1 in overtime in the playoffs. The Penguins are 1-1 in overtime.
“For the most part, we find that the most fun,” Ottawa center Kyle Turris said of going to overtime. “Playoffs, it’s so much fun. It’s a blast. The regular season is great, but the playoffs is why you play hockey. I think every kid dreams about playing overtime in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It’s the most fun part of the game.”
Game 2 is Monday night in Pittsburgh. This is the fifth playoff series between the teams. Pittsburgh has won three of four and three in a row.
The Penguins started the night leading the playoffs with 41 goals, an average of 3.4 per game. They also have the leading scorer in the playoffs in Malkin, whose goal was gave him 18 points, and four of the top seven.
But Ottawa stood firm through more than two periods and killed off all five Pittsburgh power plays during regulation.
“(Anderson is) a good goalie,” Malkin said. “He’s tall, big. He has confidence right now. We need to score a little bit more (against) him for sure because one goal is not good enough for our team.”
Pittsburgh had 5:50 of power-play time in the first period, including 45 seconds of five-on-three play.
“We had an opportunity to grab a lead,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “We didn’t execute. The movement wasn’t there. The passes weren’t crisp.”
It was Ottawa that scored first. From behind the Penguins’ net after a turnover by Pittsburgh defenseman Brian Dumoulin, Ryan sent a soft backhander out front to Pageau, who one-timed the puck past the glove of Fleury at 14:32. It was Pageau’s eighth goal, one behind playoff leader Jake Guentzel of Pittsburgh. Pageau had 12 goals during the regular season. Malkin tied it 1-1 at 14:25 of the third on a tip-in from Chris Kunitz for his 19th point. It also lifted Malkin past Jaromir Jagr into third place on Pittsburgh’s career playoff points list with 148. That ruined Anderson’s shot at his second shutout of the playoffs, but it didn’t deter the Senators.
“After the third period, we come in (the locker room) and no one’s edgy,” winger Clarke MacArthur said. “We’re used to it, playing the full season with all these close games. I don’t know what it is. We’ve waited for chances.
“A little turnover and an opportunity and we were able to capitalize. It’s great for Bobby.”
NOTES: Pittsburgh LW Carl Hagelin (lower body) and D Trevor Daley (lower body) missed the game, and RW Tom Kuhnhackl was a healthy scratch for the second straight game. … For Ottawa, LW Viktor Stallberg (lower body) remained out and RW Chris Neil was scratched after playing two games in a row. They were replaced by LW Ryan Dzingel and C Tommy Wingels