The Pittsburgh Penguins are back in the Eastern Conference Final for the first time since winning the Stanley Cup in 2009.
After two straight first-round exits, the Penguins wrapped up this year's second-round series against the Ottawa Senators with a 6-2 victory in Game 5 Friday at Consol Energy Center.
"Those were two tough playoff series the past couple years, especially last year," Penguins forward James Neal told NBC Sports Network. "We had a confident team coming in and we just want to show what we can do, and it feels good right now."
Pittsburgh will face either the Boston Bruins or New York Rangers for the right to play in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. The Bruins lead the Rangers 3-1 in the other Eastern Conference Semifinal series and can advance with a victory in Game 5 at home Saturday (5:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TSN, RDS).
"I've been watchng all the games pretty closely," Penguins defenseman Kris Letang told NHL Network. "We want to know who we're going to play and get ready for them, and making sure we keep going the way we've been playing."
The Penguins have used an offensive onslaught to overcome the disappointment of the past two seasons. Pittsburgh, the top seed in the East, scored 25 goals in a six-game quarterfinal win against the eighth-seeded New York Islanders, then 22 more against the seventh-seeded Senators. The Penguins are averaging 4.3 goals per game through their first 11 games this postseason -- no team over the past 15 years has done that during a playoff run that lasted at least two rounds.
Pittsburgh has scored at least four goals in nine of its 11 playoff games, and it's 8-1 in those games. Only once has an opponent held the Penguins to fewer than three goals this spring.
"We're going to keep going and doing the same thing," Neal said. "We're confident that if we do the same thing, we'll get results and keep going."
The Penguins bring impressive defensive numbers from the regular season into either possible upcoming matchup.
Pittsburgh was 3-0-0 against Boston this season, outscoring the Bruins 8-5 in three one-goal games. Goaltender Tomas Vokoun, 6-1 in the playoffs since taking over from Marc Andre-Fleury in the first round, defeated Boston twice, posting a .958 save percentage and 1.50 goals-against average. The Penguins have won the past six regular-season games between the teams and are 6-0-0 in their past six trips to TD Garden.
Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask, who has started every game for the Bruins this postseason, was 0-2-0 against the Penguins during the regular season and is 1-4-0 lifetime.
The Penguins were 4-1-0 against the Rangers, shutting them out twice and allowing one goal in a shootout win. Excluding a 6-1 loss April 3 – the Rangers' only win in their past nine meetings with the Penguins -- Pittsburgh outscored New York 14-4. Vokoun again was the standout, with a .952 save percentage and 1.50 GAA in two wins. He is 12-7-2 lifetime against the Rangers.
Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is 23-18-6 all-time against the Penguins during the regular season but was 1-3-1 this season and is 1-4-0 in five playoff meetings.
"There's not a ton to learn. I think if we had success in the season, it's in the past and we have to forget about it," Letang said. "We have to get ready to play a team that won two series like we did. The team that we are going to face has the same success as us in the postseason. We have to get ready for a team that is going to be desperate and we have to be the same too."
The Penguins can use the time until the next series to recover and recharge.
"It's huge, especially with the short season," Letang said. "We didn't have a lot of break during the season, so it's going to be good because some guys have some bumps and bruises. It's going to be fun to have some rest and regroup and get ready."
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby has a lot more experience playing against the Rangers, an Atlantic Division rival, but he's fared well against each possible opponent throughout his career. Crosby has nine goals and 32 points in 22 games against the Bruins (1.45 points per game), and has 20 goals and 59 points in 43 games against the Rangers (1.37 ppg).
"You just worry about [your team]," Crosby told NBC Sports Network. "At this point, anyone [we play] is going to be tough, so we'll watch and see what happens."
The Penguins and Rangers have met four times in the playoffs -- and Pittsburgh won all four series. It swept New York in the opening round in 1989, defeated the Rangers in six games in the second round in 1992, won a five-game Eastern Conference Semifinal series in 1996, and matched that feat in 2008.
Pittsburgh and Boston have split their four playoff series, but the Penguins have won the past eight playoff games between the teams. Boston won series in 1979 and '80, then took the first two games of the 1991 Wales Conference Final. But the Penguins won the next four games in that series on the way to their first Stanley Cup, then swept Boston in the Wales final the following year before doing the same to the Chicago Blackhawks to repeat as champions.