PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh Penguins knew next to nothing about Dylan Ferguson when they took the ice on Monday night.
They’re experts now. Having a nomadic goaltender almost single-handedly send you to a fourth straight loss will do that.
Ferguson made 48 saves in his first NHL start as Ottawa dented Pittsburgh’s increasingly iffy playoff chances in a 2-1 victory. It was quite a performance by the 24-year-old Ferguson, who was at an airport earlier this month assuming he was heading from one level of the minors to another before the goalie-depleted Senators signed him.
“He was awesome,” Senators defenseman Jake Sanderson said. “They got 50 shots or something? He was dialed right from puck drop. I could tell just looking at his eyes.”
No need to convince the Penguins.
Pittsburgh dominated play for long stretches — at one point during the second period the Senators were pinned in their own end for over four minutes — and finally broke through on Rickard Rakell’s goal with 5:21 to play in regulation.
But much like a significant portion of the Penguins’ uncharacteristically uneven season, their momentum quickly faded. A hooking penalty on Chad Ruhwedel gave Ottawa a power play, and Drake Batherson jammed home a shot by Tristan Jarry from just outside the crease with 2:09 to play.
Ferguson did the rest as the Senators won in Pittsburgh for the first time since April 13, 2014.
“It’s still sinking in, to be honest,” Ferguson said. “My big focus tonight was just go out there and be me. Don’t try to be anything I’m not. Stay in the moment. I felt like I did that.”
The Penguins, who have made the playoffs 16 straight years, fell behind Florida in the race for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference with 12 games to go.
“The playoffs have started for us already it feels like kind of,” Pittsburgh forward Jake Guentzel said. “So we’ve just got to keep going. We’ve got to worry about ourselves and make sure we get as many points as we can. Not look at other teams.”
The Penguins were missing three of their top defensemen. Jeff Petry and Jan Rutta both missed their second straight game with injuries, and Marcus Pettersson was placed on long-term injured reserve earlier Monday after getting hurt in a 6-0 loss to the New York Rangers on Saturday.
Mark Friedman, Taylor Fedun and Ruhwedel played well for the most part, though they spent most of the game in Ottawa’s end of the ice watching Ferguson have the best night of his professional life.
Ferguson began the night having played nine minutes at the NHL level as a 19-year-old for Vegas early in the Golden Knights’ debut season in 2017-18. He has bounced around various levels of the minors ever since and was in the process of being sent down to the ECHL by the AHL’s Toronto Marlies earlier this month when the Senators signed him to a two-way deal.
Something clicked. He played well enough in six games for Ottawa’s AHL affiliate in Belleville to receive a call-up on Sunday. Just over 24 hours later, the Senators made Ferguson the sixth goaltender they’ve used this season when they gave him the nod against the star-studded Penguins.
Ferguson looked like he belonged from the opening faceoff. He made a series of sharp saves early, including a couple of stops from in close against Guentzel and a flashy glove save on a slap shot by Evgeni Malkin.
Not bad for a player who, as Ottawa coach D.J. Smith put it, spends every summer looking for a job. Maybe not anymore.
“Can’t feel better for a guy that when he gets his opportunity, makes good on it,” Smith said.
Ferguson outplayed Jarry, a two-time All-Star who has struggled since returning from an extended absence due to multiple injuries. Jarry — who was pulled in New York on Saturday — made 19 saves but now finds his team on the outside of the playoffs looking in with three weeks left in the regular season.
“We have to bring it,” Jarry said. “Obviously, we put a lot of pucks on net. Eventually, goals are going to go in.”
Senators: Travel to Boston on Tuesday to face the NHL-leading Bruins.
Penguins: Start a difficult back-to-back on the road on Wednesday when they visit the Avalanche in Denver.