The Eastern Conference Final will be a showdown between two of the most effective captains in the NHL. Center Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins will continue their quest to win the Stanley Cup for a second consecutive season against defenseman Erik Karlsson and the Ottawa Senators.
Game 1 in the best-of-7 series will be at Pittsburgh on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports).
According to the numbers, Crosby has been helped by rookie forward Jake Guentzel to overcome the Penguins' poor shot-based metrics, and Karlsson has relied on support from a deep group of forwards to give the Senators a string of narrow victories.
Here are five interesting stats about this series:
1. Narrow victories
Seven of Ottawa's eight playoff wins have been by one goal, with five in overtime. Its only win that wasn't by one goal was a series-clinching 4-2 victory against the New York Rangers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Second Round, when Ottawa forward Jean-Gabriel Pageau scored into an empty net with seven seconds remaining.
In contrast, five of Pittsburgh's eight wins in the first two rounds were by more than one goal; that leads the NHL.
Going back to March 11, the Senators have won three games by more than one goal in the past 27 regular-season and playoff games.
Video: NYR@OTT, Gm2: Pageau nets four, wins game in 2OT
2. Erik Karlsson is key
The Senators are one team when their captain is on the ice, when they have outscored opponents 22-11 in the playoffs, according to Natural Stat Trick, and another when he is not, when they have been outscored 22-12.
Fortunately for the Senators, Karlsson spends a lot of time on the ice. His average ice time of 28:56 in 12 playoff games is second to Ryan Suter of the Minnesota Wild (29:06 in five games). Karlsson's average shift length of 53 seconds is second to Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins, who averaged 54 seconds per shift during six games.
Karlsson, playing with two hairline fractures in his left heel, leads the Senators and is first among NHL defensemen with 13 points (two goals, 11 assists). Each of his goals has been a game-winner.
3. Playing with gusto
There's always at least one player who makes a surprising playoff contribution, and this year it is Guentzel.
Playing most of the time as left wing on the top line with Crosby, Guentzel leads the NHL with nine goals in 12 games. Three have been game-winning goals, tying him with Jaden Schwartz of the St. Louis Blues for the NHL lead. Guentzel's 14 points (nine goals, five assists) are tied with Crosby for fourth among all scorers.
However, that extra scoring has a price. At 5-on-5, Guentzel has been on the ice for a League-leading 13 goals against.
Video: WSH@PIT, Gm6: Guentzel nets Crosby's quick feed
4. Shot-based strain
In even-strength shot attempts, the Penguins have been beaten 664-485 at 5-on-5, for a League-low SAT of minus-179. They have been outattempted in 11 of their 12 playoff games, with the exception Game 3 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Columbus Blue Jackets, when the Penguins had 78 attempts to the Blue Jackets' 61.
On an individual level, no one on the Penguins has a positive SAT. Even with center Evgeni Malkin, who leads the playoffs with 18 points (five goals, 13 assists) in 12 games, on the ice, the Penguins are minus-22 (170-148) in shot attempts.
5. Bolstered depth
One of the factors in Ottawa's success has been three late-season trades that improved their forward depth.
Tommy Wingels was acquired from the San Jose Sharks on Jan. 24, Alexandre Burrows from the Vancouver Canucks on Feb. 27, and Viktor Stalberg from the Carolina Hurricanes on Feb. 28. Also, forward Clarke MacArthur returned from concussion-related issues on April 4.
During the playoffs, Stalberg leads Senators forwards with 29:35 of ice time shorthanded. MacArthur leads Ottawa forwards with a plus-28 SAT, and Wingels is third at plus-19. Burrows has four assists, including one on center Kyle Turris' overtime goal in Game 5 against the Rangers.
Video: NYR@OTT, Gm5: Turris goes five-hole for OT win