Dan Bylsma has spent more than four years watching Sidney Crosby be Sidney Crosby.
The Pittsburgh Penguins coach doesn't think his captain has ever been better than he was during a 4-3 victory over Ottawa today that put Pittsburgh in firm control of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Recording his second career playoff hat trick on a dazzling rush, a somewhat fortunate bounce and a blistering slap shot, Crosby powered Pittsburgh to a 2-0 series lead and had his coach reaching for superlatives.
"He's done a lot in a lot of different games for our team in different areas," Bylsma said. "But tonight I think it was his best."
Brenden Morrow added his first playoff goal in more than five years for Pittsburgh while Tomas Vokoun made 19 saves to remain unbeaten in four starts after taking over for struggling starter Marc-Andre Fleury.
Just as importantly for the top-seeded Penguins, only two wins separate them from a trip to the conference finals for the first time since 2009, the last time they won the Stanley Cup. Game 3 is Monday (NZ time) in Ottawa.
"You want to play well at home and make sure you get here," Crosby said. "We did that, we got two wins. I don't think your mindset changes. We know that it's going to get harder."
Kyle Turris, Colin Greening and Jean-Gabriel Pageau scored for the Senators, but couldn't stop Ottawa from falling into a deep hole against the Eastern Conference's top seed. The Senators have never won a playoff series after dropping the first two games.
"I thought we got better in the game as it went along," Ottawa coach Paul MacLean said. "We had the game to a one-goal game. We need to start the game where we finished."
The Senators insisted they didn't have to play a perfect game to hang with the Penguins, pointing to the way they controlled play at even strength for long stretches in a 4-1 loss in the series opener Tuesday night. Ottawa insisted if it could stay out of the penalty box and convert when it had the man advantage, it would be right there.
Despite doing both in the first period - killing two penalties and converting on Turris' bank shot on the power play - the Senators still trailed 2-1.
More to the point, they trailed Crosby 2-1.
The Pittsburgh captain became the fifth player in franchise history to record 100 playoff points in spectacular fashion. He collected an innocent-looking pass at the Pittsburgh blue line then darted up the left side. He split two Senators - including Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Erik Karlsson - then ripped a shot under Anderson's pad to give the Penguins the lead 3:16 into the game.
Turris tied it with the first soft goal Vokoun has allowed since taking over for Fleury in Game 5 of the first-round series against the Islanders. Turris collected the puck near the left post and shot it off Vokoun and into the net.
Crosby one-upped Turris a few minutes later, zipping down the left side once again. This time, Crosby appeared to be looking to pass, eyeing linemate Pascal Dupuis as they raced in on Anderson. Only Crosby didn't pass. At the last second and without even peeking directly at Anderson, he flipped a wrist shot near the goal line that smacked off the goalie's pad and across the goal line.
"I was kind of running out of space to make a pass," Crosby said. "I was hoping that it was able to find a way in somehow. I kind of saw him leaning a bit and didn't know how much room was there but found a way to trickle in there."
Karlsson, who is still working his way back from an Achilles injury sustained when Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke inadvertently slashed Karlsson with his skate, drew a hooking penalty on Cooke early in the second.
Crosby didn't need any fancy stickwork to record his first postseason hat trick since 2009. Instead, he powered a slap shot over Anderson's glove from the left circle to push Pittsburgh's lead to 3-1. Anderson skated to the bench in favor of backup Robin Lehner.
Greening responded almost immediately after the switch, beating Vokoun with a sizzling wrist shot 40 seconds later to get the Senators within one. Morrow restored the two-goal lead by redirecting Paul Martin's blast from just outside the crease. It was Morrow's first postseason score since May 14, 2008, while playing for the Dallas Stars.
The score was one of the few mistakes made by Lehner in his playoff debut. The 21-year-old was stellar otherwise in relief of Anderson. He made 20 saves in all, including series of point-blank stops.
Lehner's play steadied the Senators, and Ottawa kept coming, pulling within a goal 2:01 into the third period when Pageau tapped the puck across the line following a mad scramble in front.
The Senators would get no closer and head home hoping to erase an 0-7 mark when it falls behind by two games in a playoff series.
"You're going to have some adversity," Anderson said. "You have to win your games at home. That's playoff hockey."
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