PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins are going to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since they won the Stanley Cup in 2009, and they are ready to attack the penultimate hurdle while hitting a perfect stride.
Pittsburgh finished a thorough dismantling of the Ottawa Senators with a 6-2 victory Friday night in Game 5 at Consol Energy Center. It is the first Stanley Cup Playoff series Pittsburgh has clinched at home since the 2009 run to a championship when they eliminated the Philadelphia Flyers at Mellon Arena in the Eastern Conference Finals.
"When we put ourselves in a position like this, you want to capitalize on it, and we came out with the desperation to win and you saw that from the puck drop," said Pittsburgh forward James Neal, who fueled the offense with a hat trick. "We were physical, putting the puck on net, special teams, we got a few big goals. It's a huge team effort and it feels good."
The top-seeded Penguins will play the winner of the other Eastern Conference Semifinal between the fourth-seeded Boston Bruins and the sixth-seeded New York Rangers. Boston leads that best-of-7 series 3-1 with Game 5 on Saturday in Boston (5:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, RDS, TSN).
The Penguins have played 11 games through two rounds of the playoffs and have reached at least four goals in nine of them. They scored 13 goals in the final 100 minutes of this series and have 47 goals this postseason, 12 more than the Bruins, who sit second.
"We came out and we surprised ourselves when we played with a lot of speed, got the puck behind them and get going to the net. It showed again tonight, getting it behind them, being physical and getting to loose pucks," Neal said. "I can't say enough about how hard we played throughout the series.
"When you have that confidence, it's a good thing to have. We are playing well."
The Game 5 result illustrated why Pittsburgh can dominate offensively on any given night. Four players scored and five other players got an assist as the Penguins' depth completely wore on an Ottawa team going up in weight class for this series.
"In order to get good offense, you have to play well as a team, and we have been doing that as a team," Pittsburgh defenseman Douglas Murray told NHL.com. "When all four lines play well, it creates a lot more room and the other side gets tired. I have been on the other side of that and it's hard to defend skill guys like that when you get tired."
The seventh-seeded Senators had written a great story in the first round, upsetting the second-seeded Montreal Canadiens in a five-game shocker that featured an otherworldly performance by goalie Craig Anderson. In this round, the Penguins made Anderson look human; he allowed 20 goals in the five games and was pulled twice.
"I thought they were very consistent throughout the five games and really had us on our heels in almost every game," Ottawa coach Paul MacLean said of Pittsburgh. "It's a credit to them and their organization, and it was a great learning experience for our organization.
"After great success against Montreal in the first round, I think we got a lesson from them on how to play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs from a good team -- and we learn lessons well."
It also might have marked an unappealing end to the career of Daniel Alfredsson, the Ottawa captain, who has been coy about his future. He scooped up the puck at the conclusion of Wednesday's Game 4, fueling speculation it might have been his last home game. Minutes later, he said in his postgame comments that the Senators probably couldn't win three games in a row because of the Penguins' depth and power play, an observation that made headlines for the 48 hours leading up to Game 5.
The offense Pittsburgh generated meant goalie Tomas Vokoun again only had to play mistake-free hockey. He did that for the most part, allowing a goal by Milan Michalek just as a Pittsburgh penalty expired in the second period, and a cosmetic third-period goal by Kyle Turris. Vokoun finished with 29 saves.
In the second period, Neal continued his recent hot streak, scoring a power-play goal at 7:38 when Anderson misplayed a shot by Letang from behind the net and Neal pushed the loose puck past the goal line. Neal added an unassisted goal 11:07 into the third period when he pickpocketed Ottawa defenseman Erik Karlsson and beat Anderson. Neal finished the hat trick when his long rush up the ice culminated in a wrister past Anderson with 2:39 remaining.
Neal had five goals in the last two games and nine points in the series.
Morrow, who did not play Game 4 due to an injury, scored Pittsburgh's first goal 6:25 into Game 5, driving hard and beating Ottawa defenseman Jared Cowen to the front of the net to get into position to deflect a Mark Eaton pass past Anderson. The pass hit both Morrow's stick and his skate before going in and was reviewed before being upheld as a goal.
It was the fourth time this series Pittsburgh scored first, and the third time that goal came in less than seven minutes. The Penguins have a League-best 16 first-period goals this postseason. That early dominance was the foundation for the Penguins, who changed a closely contested series through the first three games into a blowout across the final two.
"I don't think much changed," Crosby said, talking about the 13 goals in Games 4 and 5. "I thought that we took advantage of the opportunities we got. I mean, Anderson even before that was making a lot of stops. Even when we got a lot of chances, he seemed to make a lot of different types of saves at different points in the game. I think this was just a matter of burying the chances we got and finding a way of putting them in."
|Brenden Morrow (2) ASST: Mark Eaton (3), Matt Cooke (3)|
1 - 0 PIT
|PPG - James Neal (4) ASST: Kris Letang (12), Sidney Crosby (8)|
2 - 0 PIT
|Kris Letang (3) ASST: Tyler Kennedy (3), Brooks Orpik (1)|
3 - 0 PIT
|Milan Michalek (3) ASST: Jason Spezza (1), Kyle Turris (3)|
3 - 1 PIT
|Evgeni Malkin (4) ASST: James Neal (4)|
4 - 1 PIT
|James Neal (5) ASST: NONE|
5 - 1 PIT
|Kyle Turris (6) ASST: Jared Cowen (3), Colin Greening (1)|
5 - 2 PIT
|James Neal (6) ASST: Evgeni Malkin (12), Kris Letang (13)|
6 - 2 PIT
|Sidney Crosby Hooking against Erik Condra|
|Jean-Gabriel Pageau Interference against Craig Adams|
|Chris Neil Interference against Kris Letang|
|Evgeni Malkin Holding against Jared Cowen|
|Douglas Murray Delaying Game-Puck over glass|
|Kyle Turris Holding against Chris Kunitz|
|Chris Kunitz Slashing against Kyle Turris|
|Daniel Alfredsson Hooking against Kris Letang|
|Chris Neil Slashing against Douglas Murray|
|Kyle Turris Slashing against Paul Martin|
|Paul Martin Roughing against Kyle Turris|
|Matt Cooke Slashing against Cory Conacher|
|Jussi Jokinen Holding against Marc Methot|