PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins are heading back to the Stanley Cup Final after defeating the Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference Final.
The road wasn't easy. It took the Penguins seven games, and two overtimes in Game 7, to dispatch the Senators with a 3-2 win, but they eventually survived and will defend their title against the Nashville Predators beginning with Game 1 on Monday in Pittsburgh (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports).
Here are 5 reasons the Penguins advanced to the Stanley Cup Final:
1. MATT MURRAY STOOD TALL
Murray was expected to be Pittsburgh's starting goaltender throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That changed when he sustained a lower-body injury before Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Marc-Andre Fleury stepped in and impressed through two rounds, helping the Penguins advance to the conference final. When Murray was healthy enough to return, Fleury remained the starter.
That was until Fleury allowed four goals on nine shots in the first period of Game 3 against Ottawa. Murray returned to the crease and allowed two goals or fewer in each of his four starts.
"Just trying to do my job on the back end," Murray said.
Video: OTT@PIT, Gm7: Murray denies Turris' wrist shot in OT
2. MIKE SULLIVAN PUSHED RIGHT BUTTONS
After defeating the Blue Jackets in the first round and the Washington Capitals in the second round, Sullivan could have rested on his laurels. Instead, the Pittsburgh coach remained aggressive with his lineup decisions.
Sullivan took forward Conor Sheary, who had three assists, out of the lineup for Games 5 and 6 before putting him back in for Game 7, when Sheary played on the first line with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz. Sheary assisted on Kunitz's first of two goals that game.
Kunitz remained on the first line despite having not scored a goal since Feb. 16. That paid off when Crosby assisted his game-winning goal 5:09 into the second overtime.
"You never know if you're going to play on this ice again with this team," Kunitz said. "So, you've got to make sure you make that last as long as you can."
Video: Mike Sullivan brings the Penguins back to the Final
3. FIGURING OUT SENATORS DEFENSE
Through the first three games, the Penguins struggled to gain any possession in the offensive zone. That led them to score one goal in each of those games, and they trailed 2-1 in the best-of-7 series.
Pittsburgh adjusted, became more aggressive and outshot Ottawa 35-26 in a 3-2 win in Game 4, 36-25 in a 7-0 win in Game 5, 46-30 in a 2-1 loss in Game 6 and 42-29 in Game 7.
4. POWER PLAY IGNITED
The Penguins had one power play in Game 7. Given how well they played with the man advantage, that's all they needed.
Defenseman Justin Schultz scored on that opportunity to give the Penguins five power-play goals on nine chances in their past four games. Pittsburgh was 6-for-19 on the power play in the series.
"They've been a very consistent group throughout the course of these playoffs," Sullivan said.
Video: OTT@PIT, Gm7: Schultz rings in wrist shot for PPG
5. SURVIVED INJURIES
Defenseman Trevor Daley missed the first two games of the series with a lower-body injury and forward Carl Hagelin missed the first game with a lower-body injury. Schultz did not play in four games because of an upper-body injury and forward Patric Hornqvist was out the final six games of the series with an upper-body injury.
Despite losing their net-front presence on the top power-play unit (Hornqvist) and the quarterback of that unit (Schultz), the Penguins managed to get through another series.
"I give so much credit to our players for just that stick-to-itiveness," Sullivan said.