PITTSBURGH — Head athletic trainer Chris Stewart approached Penguins coach Mike Sullivan, covered his mouth with a towel and appeared to deliver some bad news.
The same message that Sullivan has to be tired of hearing by now, that defenseman Justin Schultz and forward Bryan Rust would remain out after suffering injuries in the first period of Game 2 Monday against the Senators in the Eastern Conference final.
Accustomed to playing short-handed for much of the second half of the regular season, however, the Penguins didn’t blink. They simply pressed on and dug themselves out of a series deficit, another familiar refrain for Sullivan’s group.
After the Penguins tilted the ice in their favor during the second half of the game, Phil Kessel scored the only goal the Penguins would need midway through the third period to produce a 1-0 victory, evening the series at one game apiece.
Game 3 is Wednesday in Ottawa.
That the Penguins were in position to get Kessel’s goal at 13:05 of the final period served as a testament to their resilience and never-say-die attitude. Down to 16 skaters, the Penguins willed their way to a win, taking over the game completely in the third period.
When Kessel scored from the slot — his second attempt after Jean-Gabriel Pageau blocked the first — the Penguins were outshooting the Senators, 8-0, in the period, with Ottawa’s previous shot coming at 16:13 of the second period.
No in-game updates were available on Schultz or Rust. Couple their exits with the fact that Patric Hornqvist was an unexpected, late scratch presumably due to injury, and the end result will cause concern when looking beyond Game 2.
Hornqvist has bounced between the first and third line and serves as the net-front presence on the Penguins top power play, a role that was filled by Jake Guentzel on Monday.
Schultz quarterbacks the top unit, taking over for Kris Letang. With Trevor Daley out because of a lower-body injury — he has skated on his own for the past two days — the No. 1 power play is without a natural quarterback.
Olli Maatta performed those duties Monday, but he averaged just 7 seconds of power-play time per game during the regular season.
If the Penguins are without Schultz or Daley for Game 3, it’s possible they could turn to 39-year-old Mark Streit, who hasn’t played since April 9.
Rust leaving elevated slumping Conor Sheary to right wing with Sidney Crosby and Guentzel.
The Penguins took a decided advantage in offense created and work ethic during the second period, turning the game’s momentum in their favor, but they were unable to get a tangible reward for any of that.
All they had to show was a 20-16 lead in shots on goal after two, a 12-6 advantage in the second period alone and 43-22 lead when it came to attempted shots during the first 40 minutes.
Their best scoring chance of the second period came during a flurry of offense, with Nick Bonino whacking at a puck from the middle of a scrum.
Scott Wilson delivered a nifty, one-time feed to Matt Cullen from the corner, but it wasn’t enough to beat Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson, who had another spectacular game.
In the third period, Anderson made a pair of terrific stops, first on Chad Ruhwedel from the right circle, another on Guentzel from in front. Anderson has been helped by the Penguins pinging posts and the crossbar.
Anderson stopped 28 of 29 shots, but he was one goal worse than Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who recorded his second shutout in the past three games by making 22 stops.
It was a solid effort, sure, but the Penguins zapped the Senators of any semblance of offense over the final 30 minutes.
Rust and Schultz were gone by the 9:30 mark of the first period.
Senators defenseman Dion Phaneuf plastered Rust with an elbow to the head, while Schultz barreled shoulder first into the end boards following a hit from Mike Hoffman.
Nevertheless, the Penguins pressed on. Even when Sheary was called for a phantom tripping call in the corner on Chris Wideman, the Penguins penalty kill produced a solid effort.
Only Mark Stone’s shot from the right circle late in the two-minute sequence provided any sort of threat, and Fleury turned that aside with ease.
The Penguins’ puck management better early, too. After committing 17 giveaways in Game 1 on Saturday, they had two in the first period Monday.