The Pittsburgh Penguins are eight wins away from repeating as Stanley Cup champions, But they’re going to have to get through a pesky, tenacious Ottawa Senators team.
How’d They Get Here?
The Pittsburgh Penguins finished second in the Metro with a 50-21-11 record. They eliminated the Columbus Blue Jackets in five games, and then eliminated their hated rivals the Washington Capitals in seven games. They’ve done all of this without top defenseman Kris Letang, who is out for the season, and with goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who replaced injured starter Matt Murray in Game 1 of the first round and has played brilliantly since.
The Ottawa Senators finished second in the Atlantic with a 44-28-10 record, in coach Guy Boucher’s first season. They ousted the Boston Bruins in six games, and then repeated the feat against the New York Rangers in the second round.
Their Last Playoff Meeting
The Penguins defeated the Senators in five games in 2013, before falling to the Boston Bruins in the conference final. The Penguins are 3-1 all-time in series against the Senators.
The Penguins lead the NHL postseason with 3.42 goals per game, off 27.7 shots per game. Their even-strength offense is spread through three lines. Sidney Crosby (4 goals, 10 assists) has been huge in getting rookie Jake Guentzel to nine goals in 12 games. Evgeni Malkin leads the playoffs with 18 points (including five goals), and the Penguins have frequently put Phil Kessel (5 goals, 8 assists) with him. Nick Bonino (2 goals, 1 assist) hasn’t done much on the scoreboard, but he’s usually paired with hulking Patric Hornqvist (4 goals, 3 assists) who has.
Their leading scorer on defense is Justin Schultz (2 goals, 6 assists).
The Senators have a 2.83 goals-for average. Their leading scorer is, of course, a defenseman: Erik Karlsson, with 13 points in 12 games, 11 of them coming at even strength, which is second to Ryan Getzlaf for most in the playoffs.
Ottawa has 13 players with at least a goal. Jean-Gabriel Pageau has seven of them, four of which came in one game. In the clincher against the Rangers, Derick Brassard (3 goals, 6 assists) skated with Mark Stone (4 goals, two of them in the last two games) and Bobby Ryan (4 goals, 5 assists) who failed to score a goal against the Rangers.
Kyle Turris has two goals in his last three games, heating up a bit. He’s been paired with Clarke MacArthur (2 goals, 4 assists) and Mike Hoffman (4 goals, 3 assists).
The Penguins have been held together with tape and prayers on the back-end in these playoffs. They miss Letang’s poise and mobility. Trevor Daley will miss the start of this series with an injury. They’re relying on Brian Dumoulin, Schultz, Ron Hainsey and Olli Maata to do more and in more minutes. Ian Cole, meanwhile, has been quietly outstanding for them.
Karlsson eats up 28:56 in ice time per game. He skates with Marc Methot, whom we imagine has a finger to point at Sidney Crosby. Or at least he used to.
Dion Phanuef has seen time with Cody Ceci, while a mix of Ben Harpur, Fredrik Claesson and Chris Wideman has seen time in the last pairing.
Marc-Andre Fleury was nothing short of brilliant against the Washington Capitals, and has a .927 save percentage for the playoffs. Not bad for a guy who was the backup to start the postseason. The leaky inconsistency that made him a source of ridicule seems to be behind him. But if he falters, the Penguins can turn to a rookie, Matt Murray, that won them a Cup last season.
Craig Anderson has been inconsistent at times, spectacular at others for the Senators, which is pretty much Craig Anderson in the playoffs. He gave up four goals in Game 5, and followed it with a great 37-save performance in Game 6. That he won both games is probably all you need to know: That despite a .917 save percentage, he’s making the stops the Sens need.
No matter what happens, Anderson’s still one of the most inspirational stories of the year in hockey.
The Penguins’ power play is clicking at 21.6-percent (8-for-37). Malkin has seven power-play points. Pittsburgh’s penalty kill is at 80 percent, going 28-for-35.
The Senators’ power play is at 14.6 percent (6-for-41). Ryan has four power-play points. Ottawa’s penalty kill is at 87.5 percent, going 35-for-40.
Guy Boucher has gotten more out of this Senators team than anyone anticipated he could. His 1-3-1 system makes the Senators a very difficult team to play against. It takes poise and patience to play it, and it takes the same amount to excel against it.
Mike Sullivan is the kind of coach we’re confident can break that system. Of course, it does help when your players have the poise of a champion.
Penguins in 6. The Sens are a tough out. Karlsson is going to relish the chance to shine on this stage. But in the end, they just don’t have enough weaponry to overcome what the Penguins will throw at them.
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