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5 Reasons: Why Penguins advanced

Overcoming injury to center Sidney Crosby, play of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury fueled Pittsburgh's return to conference final

by Wes Crosby / NHL.com Correspondent

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins probably were outplayed throughout most of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the Washington Capitals.

Despite that, the Penguins won the best-of-7 series 4-3 to move on to the conference final for a second consecutive season. Pittsburgh got there by responding to adversity in a way that would be expected of a defending Stanley Cup champion.

Here are 5 reasons the Penguins advanced:

 

1. RESILIENCE

The Penguins could have folded after losing center Sidney Crosby to a concussion 5:24 into the first period of Game 3. They lost that game 3-2 in overtime but came back two days later, without Crosby, and won 3-2 in Game 4 to take a 3-1 series lead.

Pittsburgh lost the next two games, with Crosby, including a 5-2 loss at home in Game 6. In Game 7 at Verizon Center, the Penguins responded with a 2-0 win in what arguably was their best performance of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"I don't know that I can say enough about this group of players," coach Mike Sullivan said. "They just always find a way to respond the right way."

 

2. MARC-ANDRE FLEURY'S RESURGENCE

When goalie Matt Murray sustained a lower-body injury during warmups before Game 1 of the first round, Pittsburgh's goaltending situation suddenly seemed like an area of concern.

Fleury stepped in and impressed throughout the first round against the Columbus Blue Jackets and had another strong series against Washington. He was at his best early in the second round, when he allowed two goals in three of the first four games.

The fairy-tale story took a hit when Fleury allowed nine goals in Games 4 and 5. Then in Game 7, he made 29 saves for his ninth career NHL playoff shutout.

"I'm real proud of our guys and how we played," Fleury said.

Video: PIT@WSH, Gm7: Fleury denies Orlov, rebound attempts

 

3. ROAD WARRIORS

After winning 31 of 41 games at home in the regular season (31-6-4), the Penguins struggled at PPG Paints Arena in the second round. They were 1-2 at home and were outscored 10-7.

Fortunately for Pittsburgh, it won three of four games on the road, where it was 19-15-7 in the regular season. The Penguins took a 2-0 series lead with consecutive road victories and picked up their third win away from home in Game 7.

 

4. MIKE SULLIVAN'S ADJUSTMENTS

Mostly because of Crosby's concussion, Sullivan tweaked his lineup at several points during the series.

Not all the changes worked. Sullivan attempted to reunite the "HBK Line" of Nick Bonino centering left wing Carl Hagelin and right wing Phil Kessel to start Game 2 and again in Game 5, but it didn't stick. That didn't keep Sullivan from adjusting, though.

Sullivan moved forward Bryan Rust to the first line with Crosby. That paid off when Rust scored Pittsburgh's first goal in Game 7, with Crosby picking up the secondary assist.

"A lot of us have played together and been through some big games together," Crosby said. "So, I think there's a certain level of trust and belief."

Video: PIT@WSH, Gm7: Rust roofs Guentzel's perfect pass

 

5. ALEX OVECHKIN CONTAINED

Ovechkin and Crosby had the top billing again in the series, as expected. What wasn't expected was Pittsburgh's ability to neutralize the Capitals forward, who was held off the score sheet in Games 4, 6 and 7.

Ovechkin scored one goal in Game 1 and another in Game 5, but the Penguins didn't let him fully break through. Capitals coach Barry Trotz moved Ovechkin to the third line in Game 5, and that was effective for two games. But in Game 7, Fleury turned away each of his four shots on goal.

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