"One capital city down, one to go."
The Pittsburgh Penguins were nothing if not confident, @Penguins sending that cocky little tweet out earlier in the day.
Before they send the Canadian capital packing along with the American capital, however, the Penguins are going to have to figure out how to win against a team that is, in so many ways, their polar opposite.
Saturday night in at PPG Paints Arena, the plucky Ottawa Senators took a 2-1 victory on Bobby Ryan's winning goal at 4:59 of the first extra period.
Remarkably, it marked the sixth time in nine playoff victories that Ottawa has won in overtime. Only once have they lost in extra time.
"I was kind of lucky the puck found me," Ryan said. "I got fortunate that it found the back of the net."
The winger had struggled mightily all season and had become a favourite whipping boy of Senators fans for his expensive contract and low production. He has excelled, however, in the postseason, now with five key goals and six assists.
"You just want to redeem yourself," a relieved Ryan said. "That's all I'm trying to do."
The Senators approached overtime with as much confidence as the Penguins had shown earlier in the day.
"After the third [period]," said Ottawa forward Clarke MacArthur, "no one was edgy. The guys are used to it."
Ryan's goal was a thing of beauty in a game with rare sparkles. He took a pass from Jean-Gabriel Pageau, carried the puck down the right side and cut hard to the net, faked a shot, shifted to the backhand and threw the puck past startled Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
Game 2 in this Eastern Conference final will be held here Monday evening before shifting to Ottawa for Games 3 and 4.
This opening game began with a magnanimous gesture, the sellout crowd belting out the words to O Canada in accompaniment of anthem singer Jeff Jimerson.
Perhaps it was a salute to the last Canadian team standing in the playoffs. More likely, it was payback for the stirring rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner delivered by Edmonton Oilers fans earlier in the playoffs when the anthem singer's microphone failed.
The Penguins had every reason to be confident. They had just beaten the best team in the NHL this winter, the Washington Capitals, and were now, surprisingly, up against the upstart Ottawa Senators, who had reached the conference final by defeating the New York Rangers.
The Penguins were coming in hot. Captain Sidney Crosby, despite missing Game 4 with a concussion, had a personal nine-game playoff point streak going – four goals, 10 assists – and young Bryan Rust was fresh from becoming only the fourth player in league history to have his first three game-winning goals clinch series.
"This is the Stanley Cup champions," said Ottawa head coach Guy Boucher. "This is the team that beat the No. 1 team in the league. There's a lot of things we have to be aware of."
Boucher said that his team's concentration would be on "the first ten minutes of this game. Everything else above that, beyond that, we've never paid attention to, and we're not going to start doing that right now."
Those first 10 minutes should have been a disaster for such a plan. The Senators took a hooking penalty 3:43 into the match, but held on. They then took a bench minor penalty for too many men on the ice, giving the Penguins' vaunted power play a two-man advantage for 45 seconds.
But for a post back of Senators netminder Craig Anderson, Pittsburgh might have taken the lead on a Crosby pass out to Patric Hornqvist. Hornqvist's shot rang off the post.
"I knew right off the bat when we took a couple of penalties we had to be on our game," Anderson said.
The Senators passed their all-important 10-minute mark intact and the Penguins rarely threatening.
Then, at the 14:32 mark, Pageau, the hometown hero of the series win over the Rangers, was able to steal a puck and Ryan took it in behind the Pittsburgh net.
In an identical set play to what the duo had worked in an earlier 4-1 Ottawa loss to the Rangers, Ryan sent a back pass to Pageau, reversing what seemed the natural flow of the play. Pageau was ready for the ploy and snapped the puck in past Fleury for his eighth goal of the postseason.
"If we mismanage the puck," Pittsburgh centre Nick Bonino said, "they're going to make you pay."
As is Ottawa's custom, once they gain even a one-goal lead, they try to wrap the game in duct tape – sealing off the neutral zone, chipping pucks out and away, dumping in and barely bothering to chase. Dull, but often effective, hockey.
"We didn't execute," said Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan.
The Penguins could not get their speed game going. And when they did threaten – especially during one chaotic stretch in the Ottawa end – Anderson was always perfectly positioned, impossible to beat. He smothered point shots, deflected deflections and froze scrambles.
Crosby, widely held to be the game's best player, was hardly noticeable, his every attempt lost in a tangle of Ottawa sticks and bodies.
"We know they have a good power play," Pageau said. Obviously, our best penalty killer was [Anderson]."
"Andy stood on his head the whole game," said Ottawa centre Kyle Turris.
As for the Senators, they also rarely threatened during the stalled second period.
Ottawa very nearly went ahead by two early in the third period, when Ryan carried the puck into the Pittsburgh end and dropped a pass back to Derick Brassard, who ripped a hard wrist shot off Fleury's blocker-side post.
The Penguins seem curiously disengaged. In fact, this loss marked the fourth loss in their past six games, even though they took the seven-game series from the Capitals.
Finally, however, the Penguins caught a break. Chris Kunitz took a shot from the left boards and Evgeni Malkin, pirouetting on his skates, managed to get his stick on the shot and change its direction just enough to elude Anderson.
Then it was Ryan early in overtime, but the hockey team from the Canadian capital was still reluctant to turn the Penguins' earlier tweet on its head: Two big market American cities (Boston, New York) down, one to go.
"We can't get too far ahead of ourselves," cautioned Ottawa defenceman Marc Methot. "They're pretty darn good hockey players."