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5 Reasons: Why Penguins advanced

Murray's ascent, limiting Ovechkin crucial in victory against Capitals

by Wes Crosby / NHL.com Correspondent

Kessel's two-goal night

WSH@PIT, Gm6: Kessel nets a pair in Game 6

R2, Gm6: Phil Kessel scores twice against the Capitals in Game 6, once in the 1st period and again in the 2nd

  • 01:15 •

PITTSBURGH -- Seven years after they last met in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Pittsburgh Penguins again advanced past the Washington Capitals into the Eastern Conference Final.

Sidney Crosby was not the focal point this time, however. Crosby recorded two assists in six games, but the Penguins managed to score at least three goals four times, something that would have been improbable during past playoff runs.

Here are 5 reasons the Penguins advanced:

1. GOING DEEP

Crosby and center Evgeni Malkin were non-factors offensively, but that didn't seem to matter.

Pittsburgh's line of Nick Bonino centering left wing Carl Hagelin and right wing Phil Kessel helped lead the way early in the series and again in Game 6, when it scored each of the Penguins' four goals. Defenseman Trevor Daley, veteran forward Matt Cullen and first-line right wing Patric Hornqvist each played pivotal roles at various points throughout the series.

"I think this group of guys has really become a team over the last eight to 12 weeks," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "It takes everybody to buy in and believe, and I think we have that right now."

Video: WSH@PIT, Gm6: Murray stops Ovechkin's wrister

2. MATT'S THE WAY

Pittsburgh rookie goaltender Matt Murray performed well in his second playoff series, despite facing increased pressure.

With Marc-Andre Fleury returning from his second concussion of the season to dress in Game 3, some thought the Penguins eventually would switch to their franchise goalie of the past decade at some point. That never happened, and Murray won three of four starts with Fleury as the backup.

3. POISE BOYS

Sullivan has complimented the Penguins' resiliency throughout the past few months, and it was on display again during the second round.

Pittsburgh won two of three games without defenseman Olli Maatta, who sustained an upper-body injury after being hit high by Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik early in Game 2. The Penguins won without defenseman Kris Letang in Game 4, when he was suspended for a high hit on Washington's Marcus Johansson. And Bonino scored 6:32 into overtime in Game 6 after surrendering a 3-0 lead in the third period.

"I think it takes a selfless group to endure some of the challenges to get to where we're at right now," Sullivan said.

Video: Bonino, Murray, Crosby on emotional Game 6 series win

4. OVECHKIN IN CHECK

Crosby and Malkin weren't the only quiet superstars in this series.

Ovechkin fared better than each of Pittsburgh's top two centers, but still didn't impact the series as much as he could have. He played well in Game 5, with a goal and an assist in a 3-1 Washington win and again in Game 6, when he had two assists.

The Penguins didn't completely neutralize Ovechkin, but they did enough to keep him from breaking out.

5. EXORCISING PAST DEMONS

Two years ago, the Penguins held a 3-1 lead in the second round against the New York Rangers. They lost the following three games, scoring one goal in each.

After building a 3-1 series lead against Washington, Pittsburgh lost in similar fashion in a 3-1 Game 5 loss. The Penguins returned to Consol Energy Center and closed the door on the Capitals in Game 6.

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