Penguins shut down Senators in opener
Any jitters the Pittsburgh Penguins might have had heading into Wednesday's playoff opener were erased in 68 seconds by veteran Gary Roberts.
Roberts scored twice, including 1:08 into the first period, as the Penguins skated to a convincing 4-0 victory over the visiting Ottawa Senators in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference quarter-final.
"That was a big goal by Robs," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "It gave us momentum."
Roberts was credited with a short-handed goal 18:25 into the third period, when Evgeni Malkin's centring pass through the crease caromed in off his skate.
"He does it year after year," Crosby said of Roberts, who returned to the lineup last Sunday after breaking his left leg on Dec. 29.
"It's great to see. When you've got a guy leading like that, you've just got to follow."
Pittsburgh was bounced in six games by Ottawa in last year's playoffs, but Crosby and company enter this spring's series as heavy favourites.
"We knew we were up against a team that really battled us last year," Roberts told CBC Sports. "We weren't going to give an inch."
"We're a much more mature team," Crosby said. "We're much different — much more improved — and I think we proved that tonight."
Malkin had one goal and two assists for the second-seeded Penguins, now 20-2-3 in their last 25 games at Mellon Arena.
Petr Sykora also scored, and Marc-Andre Fleury posted 26 saves for his first shutout in 11 post-season appearances.
"For the last 15 games, he has been the best goalie in the National Hockey League," Penguins head coach Michel Therrien said of Fleury.
Martin Gerber countered with 31 stops for the seventh-ranked Senators, who were minus injured captain Daniel Alfredsson (knee) and centres Mike Fisher (knee) and Chris Kelly (leg).
"We, obviously, got outplayed," Senators head coach Bryan Murray said. "We found a way to miss the net far too often."
"Our [0-7] power play killed us," said Senators forward Jason Spezza, mindful that Pittsburgh killed off a pair of lengthy 5-on-3 advantages.
Of equal concern for Ottawa is the status of defenceman Anton Volchenkov, who sustained lacerations when he struck in the head by a shot from Malkin in the second period.
"They call it a pressure cut," Murray said. "It was quite severe, and he couldn't put his helmet on.
"He is sore. But hopefully, he should be OK."
While Pittsburgh came within a whisker of securing the top seed and home-ice advantage in the conference playoffs, Ottawa stumbled with a 11-15-4 record over the final 30 games — a hard pill to swallow following a record-setting 13-1 start.
Murray even went so far as to suggest that Pittsburgh tanked the regular-season finale, a 2-0 loss at Philadelphia, to get the Senators in the opening round.
"I knew what was going on," Murray told reporters Tuesday. "That is fine.
"They wanted to play Ottawa. It was fairly obvious from the drop of the puck."
"It is so ridiculous that I don't even want to comment on it," Therrien said.
Roberts sparks Penguins
After Roberts scored on a backhand shot from the top of the crease a little over a minute into the contest, Pittsburgh struck again at 12:28.
Malkin chipped the puck off the side boards past Senators defenceman Mike Commodore and sped up ice on a 2-on-1 break with Sykora.
Malkin drew Chris Phillips, the lone defenceman back, toward him and slid the puck to Sykora, who one-timed a shot by Gerber to the glove side.
Gerber kept Ottawa within striking distance with a gorgeous glove save on Marian Hossa in a scoreless second period, but the Senators offence failed to solve Fleury at the other end.
Cory Stillman came closest, forcing Fleury to make a dazzling skate save and later ringing a slapshot off the right post during a power play.
Malkin completed the scoring with 6:02 remaining, settling Ryan Whitney's return pass with his skate before whisking the puck by Gerber for his first playoff goal.
Whitney later pounded Senators defenceman Wade Redden for roughing up Crosby at the side of the net.
"You expect that, to set the tone for the next game," Crosby said of the scuffle.
"We're a team, we stick together. I thought it was a great job at the end."
"Whitney came in and protected Sidney, which was fine," Murray said. "But beyond that, I don't think there was anything outrageous."
Game 2 of the best-of-seven series goes Friday (CBC, 7 p.m. ET).
With files from the Canadian Press