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Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins directs a shot at the Ottawa net while falling to the ice in Game 3 action. ((Dave Sandford/Getty Images))

Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal scored just 78 seconds apart early in the third period Monday to help give Pittsburgh a 4-1 win over the Ottawa Senators, putting the Penguins just one game away from advancing to the second round of the NHL playoffs.

"We were playing good hockey in the second, getting a lot of shots and creating a lot of opportunities," Staal told Hockey Night in Canada. "I guess we figured sooner or later it would go in and it went in pretty quick [to start the third]."

Nick Foligno scored his first career playoff goal for the Senators, who are facing the prospect of being swept in the first round after reaching the Stanley Cup final last year.

Captain Daniel Alfredsson returned to the lineup for the Ottawa Senators in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference quarter-final against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday.

Alfredsson last played on April 3 in Toronto, when he took a hard hit from Maple Leaf forward Mark Bell. Alfredsson injured his knee and neck on the play.

"It's unbelievable," Ottawa coach Bryan Murray said of Alfredsson's return. "I was told probably six weeks minimum, when he was first injured in Toronto."

"I didn't use him as much, obviously he wasn't at full speed, you could see that," Murray added. "But he had hands, he had a couple of scoring chances.

"But if anyone ever questions Daniel Alfredsson's character or anything else again, I think I might approach them somehow in an unkind manner."

Maxime Talbot scored soon after Foligno opened the scoring in the second, with Marian Hossa getting his third point of the game when he scored Pittsburgh's fourth goal midway through the third.

The clubs will again play at Scotiabank Place in Kanata, Ont., in Game 4 on Wednesday (CBC, 7 p.m. ET).

Ottawa goalie Martin Gerber finished with 34 saves, one more than counterpart Marc-Andre Fleury. Pittsburgh has outshot the Senators 127-90 in the series.

Alfredsson took four shots in a first period in which Ottawa outplayed Pittsburgh, but could not beat Fleury.

Gerber was not slightly less busy in the first than Fleury, but was forced to make a key save on Hossa with Pittsburgh enjoying a power play late in the frame.

The teams exchanged goals early in the second, with Foligno giving Ottawa its first 1-0 lead of the series. Centre Jason Spezza did yeoman's work in the neutral zone, setting up the rookie for the goal 71 seconds into the period.

Spezza was initially listed as doubtful for Game 3 after jamming his leg in Friday's 5-3 Game 2 loss to the Penguins.

Nearly every Pittsburgh player touched the puck as they moved it up ice to even the score, culminating in Talbot breaking in on Gerber and beating him with a backhander between the pads.

Penguins score early in 3rd

The Senators got a break late in the period when Pittsburgh defenceman Sergei Gonchar's shot from the point changed directions twice and trickled to the post.

Pittsburgh dominated possession in the neutral zone to score their goals at the beginning of the third.

Crosby skated around Antoine Vermette and stripped Mike Commodore after the puck dropped to begin the period and beat Gerber to the short side just 15 seconds into the period.

"When you let a star get a break like that, he usually scores and he did," said Murray. "From that point on, it looked like we didn't have the same energy and they really got going."

Staal then drove to the crease and re-directed a bouncing puck that was passed by Tyler Kennedy from the right-wing boards.

"Jordan Staal's line, even five-on-five, they were playing really good, with Tyler Kennedy and Jarkko Ruutu," said Pittsburgh coach Michel Therrien. "They played well, they deserved to score a goal."

Ottawa tried to rally, but Fleury denied Cory Stillman near the six-minute mark to preserve Pittsburgh's two-goal lead.

Ottawa misses power-play chance

The Senators squandered a power-play opportunity soon after by taking two penalties on the same play under a minute later — Dany Heatley getting four minutes for high-sticking and Staal and Stillman two for tripping.

Hossa made Ottawa pay by depositing a loose puck in the crease at 8:55, assisted by Crosby and Ryan Malone.

It was Pittsburgh's first power-play goal, on their eighth opportunity.

"That's what's killing us over the last two games, without a question," said Murray. "It's all we've talked about time after time and it has a little bit to do with them having puck possession, there's no doubt about that."

Pittsburgh sat out veteran Gary Roberts, who has been bothered by a groin injury. Adam Hall took his spot in the lineup.

Ottawa will now try and duplicate what only two other teams in the NHL have accomplished. Only the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs and 1975 New York Islanders have come back from 3-0 series deficits.