As a scoreless tie stretched deep into Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals Monday night, Phil Kessel grew more and more frustrated.

The Ottawa Senators, with their neutral-zone clogging forecheck and collapsing defensive-zone play, had Kessel fuming and fussing as he went to the bench at the end of more than one shift.

It took only one shot to make the frustration disappear.

Kessel scored on his own rebound with less than seven minutes left in the game, leading the Penguins to a 1-0 victory at PPG Paints Arena.

The series is tied 1-1. Game 3 is set for Wednesday night in Ottawa.

“I think I yelled more than once tonight,” Kessel said with a laugh. “Obviously, it’s an emotional game. There’s ups and downs. We found a way.”

Throughout the early part of the series, the Penguins have talked at length about the best way to attack Ottawa’s 1-3-1 forecheck. On the winning goal, world-class stickhandler Evgeni Malkin had his own plan.

Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury makes a save on Senators center Derick Brassard (19) in the first period during Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final Monday, May 15, 2017, at PPG Paints Arena. For more images from Game 2, visit the Trib’s photo gallery.

Photo by Chaz Palla


Malkin picked up the puck deep in his zone and began a rush up the left wing. At the red line, he easily maneuvered around an onrushing Zack Smith and gained the offensive zone. Just past the blue line, he made a pass through the skates of Mark Stone to Kessel in the center of the ice.

“That’s why he’s one of the best,” defenseman Olli Maatta said. “He can do that. It’s pretty impressive.”

Kessel took a shot from the high slot that was blocked by Jean-Gabriel Pageau. The puck bounced right back to Kessel’s stick for a shot inside the right post.

“Obviously, for a goalie, that’s always tough when it gets blocked and comes right back to the guy,” Kessel said. “It was fortunate, but I’ll take it.”

It was fortunate for the Penguins, too, who were staring at a 2-0 series deficit despite fixing some of the troubles that led to their 2-1 overtime loss in Game 1.

They still weren’t as dynamic as they usually are, but they effectively tilted the ice on the Senators as the game wore on. In the second period, for example, they had a 12-6 edge in shots and a 21-7 advantage in shot attempts.

“I feel like we had some real good chances right in front,” defenseman Ron Hainsey said. “Not necessarily odd-man rushes. They do a very good job of not giving many up or limiting them, but we had some great zone time.”

Ottawa coach Guy Boucher said he thought the third period was his team’s downfall.

“They’ve got some really good players that turned it on, and they were hard to manage,” Boucher said. “I thought we didn’t manage the puck well on our breakouts at all. We gave the puck away a lot. We threw the puck away, and it created some momentum in our zone for the opponent.

“When you look at the two games, we played five good periods out of six, and the third period cost us the game tonight.”

In the early part of the game, the Penguins were losing a war of attrition.

Patric Hornqvist, who missed practice Sunday and morning skate Monday with an undisclosed injury, was scratched after warmups.

Five minutes into the first period, winger Bryan Rust was driving down the center of the ice when he was knocked out of the game by an unpenalized hit to his head by Senators defenseman Dion Phaneuf.

Five minutes later, Justin Schultz was going back for a puck in the defensive zone when he collided with Senators winger Mike Hoffman and crashed violently into the boards, his right shoulder taking the brunt of the impact.

Coach Mike Sullivan said after the game that he hadn’t spoken to the training staff about the condition of the injured players.

In general, he was pleased with his team’s effort.

“We don’t have to win games, 7-6,” Sullivan said. “We can win games 1-0, just like we did tonight, as long as we embrace the challenge.”

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.