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Bobby Ryan tries to control the puck in front of Sidney Crosby during the first period of Game 2. (Gene J.Puskar/AP)
Bobby Ryan tries to control the puck in front of Sidney Crosby during the first period of Game 2. (Gene J.Puskar/AP)

Kessel scores winner as Penguins beat Senators to even series Add to ...

Sometimes it seems like everything the Ottawa Senators do, they do backwards.

They attack by staying back and blocking the middle.

They don’t practise and now don’t even have morning skates.

Their most formidable offensive weapon is a … defenceman.

And that star player, who is also their captain, is already golfing – despite his team being in the Eastern Conference final against the defending Stanley Cup champions.

Monday was Game 2 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the day after Erik Karlsson played the legendary Oakmont Country Club, site of nine U.S. Opens.

“Not great,” Karlsson said of his Sunday round.

And “not great” on Monday, either, as the Senators fell 1-0.

It appeared the game was headed again for overtime, only to come to an abrupt end when Pittsburgh forward Phil Kessel came over the blueline, took a shot that was blocked but shot again successfully to give the Penguins the victory.

The series, now tied at one game apiece, will move to Ottawa for Game 3 on Wednesday.

Ottawa head coach Guy Boucher said before the game that they didn’t want to give up two-on-one rushes or breakaways. “Those are the freebies that will kill you,” he said.

Instead, the winning goal came off what appeared to be another routine block by the solid Ottawa defence.

What killed Ottawa’s chances of leaving Pittsburgh two up in the series was a lackluster third period in which they could not even manage a shot on net until after Kessel had scored at the 13:05 mark.

“They stepped it up a notch,” said Boucher. “We didn’t. The third cost us our game today.”

“We just kind of stopped pressing,” said Ottawa forward Kyle Turris.

“We’ve got to come back and find our game again,” added defenceman Dion Phaneuf.

Game 2 was certainly far more exciting than the opening game in this series, won 2-1 in overtime by the Senators. That tensions were high was illustrated magnificently early in the second period, with still no score, when Pittsburgh scoring stars Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kessel got into a nasty shouting match on the bench.

No one knows what was said. No one needs it spelled out.

“We like our ‘juice’ on the bench,” said Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan. “We encourage our players to talk to one another. Sometimes the conversations can get a little heated.”

Malkin had the first chance of the game when the big Russian got in alone on Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson in the opening moments. But Anderson, who has been superb in the playoffs, easily turned the scoring attempt away.

Compared to Saturday’s match, this one was high-spirited, faster and at times chaotic, with far more superior scoring chances.

It was also more physical, with Phaneuf crushing Pittsburgh forward Bryan Rust as Rust came across the Ottawa blueline early in the opening period. The clean, open-ice check left Rust scrambling just to get back to the bench. He immediately went to the dressing room, and his place on Crosby’s line was taken by speedy Conor Sheary.

Another Penguin, defenceman Justin Schultz, also left the ice after a hard check against the boards from Ottawa’s Mike Hoffman. Neither Rust nor Schultz returned for the second period.

Ottawa lucked into a man advantage early courtesy of a crowd-displeasing trip called on Sheary. The Ottawa power play, coming into this match running at a 0-16 pace over the past five games, was dreadful right up until Mark Stone had a point-blank chance, but he could not put the puck past the quick pad of Marc-André Fleury.

Fleury came into Game 2 with a 3-1 record in games that followed a playoff loss. The Penguins also had history on their side, having gone 27-12 in previous Game 2s played at home, including the previous five in a row.

Fleury and his team can now add another plus to those figures.

Kessel’s goal came off an attempted shot and then a reload. Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan had said his team seemed “a little bit stagnant” in Saturday’s loss and he implored them “to shoot pucks more.” Kessel obviously listened.

Crosby’s recovery from a mild concussion suffered in Pittsburgh’s series with the Washington Capitals continues to be a concern. The star centre had 11 points in seven games prior to the injury, whereas in the five games since he has scored no goals and has only three assists.

In Saturday’s overtime loss, he had been held scoreless and was again held off the scoresheet – apart from the penalty list – on Monday. The Senators are acutely aware, however, that he has always enjoyed considerable success against Ottawa in the playoffs, with 33 points (14 goals, 19 assists) in 21 prior playoff games involving the two teams. He will not be ignored in Ottawa.

Through two periods, whenever the dominant Penguins did penetrate deeply, they could not foil either the Ottawa defence or Anderson, who was particularly brilliant in the third period until the Kessel goal.

“Andy played great for us,” said Karlsson.

As for Fleury, he was hardly tested as much, though he did make one marvelous save on Ottawa’s Ryan Dzingel, who was alone at the side of the net but could not get it over the goal line.

Late in the second it seemed Ottawa might once again score the opening goal. Clarke MacArthur stole a puck in the Pittsburgh end and found himself all alone with only Fleury to beat. But he could not get a shot away.

“The puck kind of danced on me,” said MacArthur. “I wanted to go five-hole.”

MacArthur put the loss in context, pointing out that the Senators were now leaving for home ice with a split against the best team in hockey.

“We did our job,” he said. “We got one here.”

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