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MacGregor: Penguins push Senators to edge of elimination


They got Matt Cooke good here Wednesday.

They lined up by the dozens and gave him everything he deserved and more – leaving him drenched and humiliated in the Scotiabank Place parking lot.

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"Dump a Pen" the sign read: two balls for a toonie, all money to go the Senators Foundation charity.

Children lined up, their parents fishing purses and pockets for coins as "Matt Cooke" – a volunteer wearing a Pittsburgh Penguins jersey, No. 24, stitched across the back – plunged time and time again into a large tank of water, the happy crowds cheering every time he went down.

Inside, they held up signs like "Cooke=Rat," the Penguins forward never to be forgiven for his Feb. 13 skate stomp that sliced into the Achilles tendon of Ottawa Senators favourite Erik Karlsson.

Cooke more than had the last laugh on the ice, however. He was the one who drew a Sergei Gonchar cross-checking penalty early in the third period, leading to James Neal's second goal of the night and a 4-2 Pittsburgh lead that seemed to crush the Senators.

And then, just to rub a little salt in the wound, Cooke set up Pascal Dupuis for a short-handed tap-in as the Penguins romped to a 7-3 victory.

Andy! Andy! Andy!

Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson was brilliant in the opening minutes of the game, stopping the likes of Sidney Crosby and Jarome Iginla several times each and seeming to utterly baffle the Penguins attackers.

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Two saves in a row off Crosby at the 10 minute 50 second mark of the first period began the crowd chant: "Andy! Andy! Andy!"

Earlier in the day, Ottawa's playoff MVP talked about what it feels like to have 20,500 fans chanting your name in a rink renowned for its doctor's office demeanour.

"It puts a little smile on your face," he said. "It's more rare here than it is in other buildings for other goalies. I feel like the fans really respect the save … as opposed to in other buildings guys make a dump-in save and you hear their names being called. I'm not sure what the thought is behind that.

"When [Jean-Gabriel] Pageau gets his name chanted it's because he had a huge game. They don't just chant his name because he's from here," Anderson said. "So it's one of those things where it uplifts your spirits – and continues to make you want to play better."

It was the last "Andy!" chant of the evening.

By the middle of the third period, Anderson's "spirits" could not have been lower – yanked from the net after Crosby scored and was replaced by Robin Lehner, who soon let in one himself.

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There was, however, another chant – one heard in every rink where the home crowd believes it has been shortchanged, wronged and cheated. "Ref, you suck! "Ref, you suck! "Ref, you suck! …"

New kids on the block

Both teams made lineup changes for Game 4. Something old, something new.

The Penguins added 30-year-old Jussi Jokinen, a useful forward picked up at the trade deadline from the Carolina Hurricanes for a conditional 2013 draft pick. The Senators added 21-year-old

Mark Stone, a minor-leaguer with virtually no NHL experience.

However: a year ago, Stone was inserted into the lineup for Game 5 of the Senators' first-round series with the New York Rangers. It was Stone's deft pass to Jason Spezza that produced the winning goal in a 2-0 victory, putting them ahead 3-2 in the series.

Unfortunately, the lanky Winnipeg native was scratched next game in favour of another untried rookie, Jakob Silfverberg. The Sens lost both games and their postseason was over.

This time, Spezza set Stone up for several good opportunities, but none of them found the Pittsburgh net.

Injury was added to insult in the third period, when Stone was sent hard into the boards by Pittsburgh defenceman Matt Niskanen. Stone limped off the ice.

Jokinen, on the other hand, set up Iginla perfectly for the Penguins final goal of the night.

No. 19

Few events in Ottawa Senators history have been anticipated more than the return of Spezza from back surgery. That one of the NHL's lowest-scoring teams could use its top playmaker and last season's fourth-leading NHL scorer goes without saying.

Nearly four months off, however, exacts a toll. Spezza seemed tired going into overtime – let alone double overtime in Game 3.

Fans showed up by the hundreds in No. 19 Spezza jerseys Wednesday, one with the added touch of wearing boxing gloves – though Spezza is as likely to fight as he is to turn into a non-risk-taking defensive specialist.

In Game 4, he had the 3-3 goal on his stick when the Senators finally got a power play late in the second period, but his hard shot hit the far post behind Tomas Vokoun and shot back down the ice to Penguins safety. After that ringing of the iron, the Senators were never a factor.

What now?

Down 3-1 in a best-of-seven series against the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference doesn't instill a lot of confidence.

Nor, sadly, did the manner in which the Senators lost Wednesday, taking the very penalties they swore to avoid and their talisman, Anderson, finally showing just how human he is.

The only certainty is they won't tank it Friday in Pittsburgh.

That honour they reserve back here for "Matt Cooke."


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About the Author

Roy MacGregor was born in the small village of Whitney, Ont., in 1948. Before joining The Globe and Mail in 2002, he worked for the National Post, the Ottawa Citizen, Maclean's magazine (three separate times), the Toronto Star and The Canadian Magazine. More


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