Going into this game 7 on a Thursday night in Pittsburgh at PPG Paints Area, the Senators were 0-5 in game 7’s in their franchises history and the Penguins were 0-7 at home in a game 7 following a game 6 loss. One of those streaks would have to end.
The defending Stanley Cup Champions Pittsburgh Penguins were the team to break their streak (now 1-7 in such scenarios, and a not so shocking 1-0 in those scenarios under Mike Sullivan), beating the Senators 3-2 in double overtime on a goal by Chirs Kunitz, his second of the night:
Going into this series, the Penguins were the heavy favorite. Not many were taking the Senators in this series. To be quite honest, many people had the Penguins knocking off the Senators in 4 or 5 games. However, that was not the case. The series would drag onto 7 games, which included a double overtime in game 7, but the Penguins would still be the team to prevail.
So, what made this series last much longer than many expected? And how were the Penguins able to become the first team since, well…the Penguins, to reach a Stanley Cup Final in back-to-back seasons? Here are some takeaways from the Eastern Conference Final against the Senators:
It’s a Trap!
The Penguins, not shockingly, had trouble at times beating Guy Boucher’s boring, could fall asleep on 3 bottles of Mountain Dew, uninteresting 1-3-1 trap. That said, it worked for him against the Penguins a few years ago when he was the head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning, but the Penguins were also without both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
The Penguins were the better team in this series, and they still carried play for the most part. But the trap created turnovers which the Senators often capitalized on. I think the 1-3-1 trap truly is boring, but I will say this: it gave the Ottawa Senators a chance to beat these Pittsburgh Penguins.
Did you think they were going to beat the Penguins by wearing them out physically? The Sens don’t have too many physical types…
Did you think they were going to out-skate the Penguins? Maybe Karlsson could, but not really anybody else…
Do you think they were going to simply outscore the Penguins and beat them at their own game? Okay, now things are getting out of hand…
The only way the Senators were going to find a way to sneak into the Cup Final is to shut the Penguins down with their 1-3-1 trap. It worked at times, and it ended up giving the Senators a chance in this series. Call it boring hockey (because it is), but it worked for them…or at least prolonged the series
Can you blame them?
Chris Kunitz scored that goal in double OT, and after celebrating and cheering, the one man I felt bad for was Craig Anderson. Just thinking about all he has gone through this season with his wife having cancer treatments, taking multiple significant periods of time off to be with her, and coming just a bit short…man. I feel for the guy.
And to be honest, Anderson was the Senators’ best player this series. Yeah, the Penguins poured it on in game 5 with a huge 7-0 win, but that was really the only bad game that Anderson played. Every win the Senators had against the Penguins was a large thanks to Anderson.
Game 1: Bobby Ryan scores in OT to give his team a 2-1 win, and Anderson shuts down the Penguins coming off of an emotional win in game 7 against the Caps.
Game 3: The Senators scored 4 early goals, chased Marc-Andre Fleury, and Anderson’s only blemish was a Sidney Crosby power play marker that was basically pointless in a 5-1 win.
Game 6: Anderson stood on his head in a game the Penguins probably should have won, but goals by Ryan and Mike Hoffman propelled the Sens to a 2-1 victory.
If the Senators are going to blame anyone for this series loss, they should not even think about glancing towards Anderson. He was terrific throughout, and pushed the Penguins to the brink of elimination.
Entering game 7, Chris Kunitz had not scored a goal since mid-February. Yes, you read that correctly. But when the Penguins needed him the most, he scored 2, including the double overtime game winner.
Kunitz was traded to the Penguins in 2009, and played a huge role in their Stanley Cup victory that year. He became a mainstay on Sidney Crosby’s wing, and had multiple seasons where he was just outstanding, even cracking Canada’s Olympic roster.
Nowadays, Kunitz certainly isn’t the player he once was, but he reminded us all today that he still has some value left in him. Kunitz is a tremendous person, locker room guy, and leader. He is physical, which is something the Penguins lack, and he always drives to the net. He may not have the scoring touch he once did, but I feel Kunitz is an extremely valuable asset to this team, and he sure showed it tonight.
It was even more fitting that his game-winning goal came on an assist from none other than Sidney Crosby. Kunitz has still got it.
Shutting Down Karlsson
Erik Karlsson, hands down, is the Senators’ best player. The Penguins needed to insure that they kept him in check in this series if they wanted to win, and I felt as though they did that for the most part.
Karlsson registered a few assists, but had no goals. In addition, the Sens had only 1 powerplay goal all series and it came on a 5 on 3. I mention this because the Sens powerplay runs through Karlsson. If Karlsson is clicking, so is their powerplay. But the Penguins would not let the Senators set up.
Karlsson was playing with some broken bones in his foot, but the Penguins managed to keep him relatively quiet for a man of Karlsson’s caliber. If he had a big series, the Penguins may not be preparing for Nashville on Monday night.
The Penguins are now 13-2 following a playoff loss under Mike Sullivan, and are now 7-0 in playoff series with this man behind the bench.
Need I say more?
Okay, when doesn’t this become a topic of discussion?
Quite frankly, I’m disgusted that is coming up once again, but it is a topic that must be addressed after this series. Before I divulge into the goaltender debate, I want to make one thing clear: I love both Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray. Both are incredible goaltenders that give the Penguins a chance to win, and I believe the Pens would have taken this series regardless of who was in goal.
Deciding who would play game 4 was a tough decision for Mike Sullivan.
Fleury is the reason the Penguins even played the Ottawa Senators. He was my early pick for the Conn Smythe, and might still be if he continued to play, but that was not the case. After Fleury had a rough start to game 3, allowing 4 goals in the first period, Matt Murray stepped in and took over, surrendering only 1 goal after that. Sullivan needed to decide whether to go back to Fleury for game 4, who had been the best Penguin in the playoffs, or stick with “his #1 guy” in Matt Murray.
He went with Murray, and obviously it payed off for the Penguins, as they got to enjoy their night and now begin focusing on the Stanley Cup Final. But I am not one to judge a decision by the result.
I am more than happy the Penguins won, and I feel more than confident with Murray in net, but Fleury deserved the crease in game 4. He deserved to bounce back. He deserved to be Fleury again. But he wasn’t. And do you want to know why? Here is my personal take:
Say Fleury had a rough night in game 3, but played the whole game and the Penguins lost 7-6. I do not think Sullivan would have played an ice cold Matt Murray in game 4…BUT, since Fleury had a rough start, Murray had the chance to knock off some rust and play almost an entire playoff game as a “warmup.” If Fleury plays the entirety of game 3, he starts game 4.
All of that said, Matt Murray played excellent in the 4 full games he played in, went 3-1, and will be a lock as the #1 goalie for the Penguins heading into the Cup Final. He was the #1 goaltender for the Penguins during the regular season and last year’s playoff run, and now that he has gained his crease back. It’s his now.
But it’s all in the past. The Penguins won, and they are moving on.
The Penguins will have 3 days off before facing the 16th seeded Nashville Predators in game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final at PPG Paints Arena on Monday at 8 pm.
Bring it on, Nashville.