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Ottawa Senators' Jason Spezza (L) skates to the bench past a jubilant Pittsburgh Penguins' Chris Kunitz (C) and Sidney Crosby as they celebrate a goal during the second period of game four of their NHL Eastern Conference quarter-final hockey game in Ottawa April 20, 2010. (BLAIR GABLE/REUTERS)
Ottawa Senators' Jason Spezza (L) skates to the bench past a jubilant Pittsburgh Penguins' Chris Kunitz (C) and Sidney Crosby as they celebrate a goal during the second period of game four of their NHL Eastern Conference quarter-final hockey game in Ottawa April 20, 2010. (BLAIR GABLE/REUTERS)

Roy MacGregor

Penguins have Senators on the ropes Add to ...

Such a strange night for such a thin moon.

You had to be there to see it; no, better you were spared.

Here, then, is a limited attempt to explain the inexplicable, for this was a game in which words were about as weak as the goaltending and the officiating when it comes to describing the chaos this night at Scotiabank Place.

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"Without a doubt," said a headshaking Chris Kunitz when it was over, "the wildest game I've ever been a part of in the playoffs."

In short form, Kunitz's Pittsburgh Penguins ran an Ottawa Senators goaltender out of the net and all but ran the Senators out of the playoffs with a 7-4 victory that gives the Penguins a three-games-to-one stranglehold on this opening round playoff series.

"Shootout at the O.K. Corral," laughed Bill Guerin, also on the winning side.

No one was smiling in the other dressing room. "We have no one to look at but ourselves," said a despondent Ottawa defenceman Chris Phillips.

It was another night for Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby - yes, the one the crowd pointed out with "Crosby sucks!" chants -as his two goals and two assists moved even farther ahead in the Stanley Cup scoring race with 11 points in only four games.

But let us get back to him later.

The Ottawa Senators were so desperate to find someone who could perform the simple task of putting a puck in an opposition net that they turned over a rock most had long forgotten.

Beneath it, they found a player who hadn't worked out, a player they had already given up on.

About the best that could be said of poor over-burdened Cheechoo is that his favourite movie as Clash of the Titans. It might have helped the story, as Ottawa not gone so terribly short on Titans recently that they were forced to look elsewhere.

The Penguins, on the other hand, seemed to have as many Titans as role players, with Crosby merely primus inter pares on a team that is trying to win a second straight Stanley Cup.

"He's got that fire in his eyes," said teammate Maxime Talbot.

Not even a full moon could explain the madness of hoping that the innocent Cheechoo could lift his team to a level ice surface with the Penguins.

Someone, however, remembered that long, long ago and far, far away (San Jose), a younger Jonathan Cheechoo had once scored 56 goals and claimed the Rocket Richard Trophy as the National Hockey League's premier goal scorer.

In the years since, however, his totals had slipped like Nortel stock - 37 goals, 23 goals, 12 goals, 5 goals when the Senators finally gave up on him. He had been forced on Ottawa in the Dany Heatley trade to San Jose Sharks. Heatley had engineered his own exit and the best Ottawa general manager Bryan Murray could do was get a legitimate player, Milan Michalek and a second-round draft pick on condition that he also take on Cheechoo and his contract.

Cheechoo, by then, had been considered a lost cause by NHL scouts, a player who once could shoot but who never could skate, and today his weak skating and faltering shot had turned him into a $3.5-million-year liability. Hoping against hope, Ottawa had played him for 61 games, giving him prime ice time and premier time on the power play, but nothing worked. He had been sent to the minors in Binghampton and would be bought out in the summer.

But desperate times call for desperate measures. With Michalek injured and Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson unable to score, the Senators took a flyer on the 29-year-old from Moose Factory.

"He's got a history of scoring goals," Ottawa coach Cory Clouston had said. "And that's something we need."

Well, so, too, does "One-Eyed" Frank McGee have a history of scoring goals - 14 in one game for the 1905 Senators - but Frank, unfortunately, wasn't available.

Cheechoo made no difference whatsoever. But he was hardly alone in coming up short.

It was not a night for goaltending, Ottawa's Brian Elliott - who streaks in both directions - replaced by Pascal Leclaire when the Penguins moved ahead 4-0. Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury was only marginally better.

The only thing as bad as the goaltending was the officiating - but when Ottawa picked up two too-many-men-on-the-ice penalties in a row, it doesn't make much sense to complain.

Crosby led the Pittsburgh attack, with other goals coming from Evgeni Malkin, Matt Cooke, Talbot, Kunitz and Jordan Staal.

Ottawa had goals by Chris Neil, Alfredsson and Spezza - both with their first of the postseason - and Matt Cullen.

Eleven goals, dozens of broken plays, more missed calls than calls made - a thoroughly goofy night in the nation's capital before a packed house of 20,014 disappointed and flabbergasted fans.

"It's only a third win," cautioned Pittsburgh's Guerin.

"You need four to win."

True enough, but as the moon moved on few in Ottawa seemed to think that was now pretty much of a given.

Follow on Twitter: @RoyMacG

 

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