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Playoff Buzz: What we learned Thursday

Penguins headed to Stanley Cup Final after double-OT win against Senators in Game 7

NHL.com @NHL

Welcome to the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoff Buzz, your daily look at the stories impacting the 2016-17 postseason. The Pittsburgh Penguins are going to the Stanley Cup Final for the second straight season after a double-overtime win against the Ottawa Senators in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final is Monday in Pittsburgh. Here is the playoff news for Friday: 

 

10 a.m. 

Chris Kunitz picked the right time to score his first two goals of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Kunitz scored twice in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final on Thursday; the second goal, 5:09 into the second overtime, propelled the defending champion Penguins back to the Stanley Cup Final. 

Kunitz, who hadn't scored since Feb. 16, took a pass from Sidney Crosby and beat Ottawa Senators goalie Craig Anderson over the blocker to end it. 

It was the 27th overtime game of this year's playoffs (81 games). The record is 28, set in 1993 (85 games).

Video: OTT@PIT, Gm7: Kunitz, Murray on series win in Game 7

 

Here is a look at what happened on Thursday: 

Pittsburgh Penguins 3, Ottawa Senators 2 (2 OT)

Kunitz ended a wild game at PPG Paints Arena when his one-timer from near the top of the left circle sailed past Anderson, giving the defending Stanley Cup champions the chance for a repeat. 

Kunitz opened the scoring at 9:55 of the second period, but the Senators came right back with Mark Stone tying the game 20 seconds later. Justin Schultz gave Pittsburgh a 2-1 lead at 11:44 of the third, but the Senators, who battled back throughout the postseason, tied it at 14:41 on a goal by Ryan Dzingel.

It was the seventh time in NHL history that Game 7 of the conference final or semifinal round went to overtime and the first since the Los Angeles Kings defeated the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2014 Western Conference Final. 

It was an incredible night for Kunitz, writes NHL.com Staff Writer Tom Gulitti.

For the Senators, it was a crushing end to what had been a magical and unpredictable run through the Stanley Cup Playoffs, writes NHL.com Senior Writer Dan Rosen

The Penguins' win sets up a Music City vs. Steel City Cup Final matching two franchises with similar backgrounds, writes NHL.com Columnist Nick Cotsonika

Video: Previewing the Predators-Penguins Stanley Cup Final

 

Here is what we learned on Day 41 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs: 

Penguins won't go away

The Penguins again put their resiliency on display and continued to fight like champions. They gave up two one-goal leads, one each in the second and third periods, but dominated most of the first overtime and got the one shot they needed in the second OT to win it. No Kris Letang for the entire playoffs. No Patric Hornqvist for the last six games of the conference final. They changed goalies mid-series after losing 5-1 in Game 3 to fall behind 2-1. Still, they have a chance to be the first team in 19 years to repeat as Stanley Cup champions.

Ottawa is for real

The Senators were criticized and doubted throughout the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. But after they pushed the defending champions to double overtime in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, they should not be doubted anymore. Barring any unforeseen changes, the Senators should be considered a Stanley Cup contender going into next season. Going on another magical ride like the one they had this spring will be difficult to replicate, but the Senators proved themselves this postseason as a talented, skilled, tough and resilient team. They should not be seen as anything but that now.

Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz: still perfect together

These two have been doing it for years with the Penguins, and they did it again to win Game 7. Sidney Crosby set up Chris Kunitz, just as he has done so many times since 2008, for the double-overtime winner. Penguins coach Mike Sullivan recognized during the game that Crosby, Kunitz and Conor Sheary had some chemistry when they got the odd shift together, so he kept them on the same line for good starting in the third period. It should come as no surprise that the change worked; after all, Crosby and Kunitz have worked together so often for the past nine years. In fact, Kunitz's goal off a Crosby pass that got Crosby his 1,000th NHL point on Feb. 16. 

Erik Karlsson mum on injury

Senators captain Erik Karlsson had a chance during his postgame session with the media to say how and to what degree he was limited by his left foot injury. Despite being directly asked the question, Karlsson did not divulge much. "Tough to say," he said. "This time of the year everybody is battling through something. Obviously we'd all like to be healthy; not only me, but a lot of guys in this room and I'm sure in their room as well are going through things and you're going to have to play through it and deal with the situation you've been dealt, the hand you've been dealt. I have no regrets.

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