The Pittsburgh Penguins hit the ground running in Game 5 and never looked back, with a strong 6-2 to eliminate the Ottawa Senators tonight. Fueling off their 7-3 win two nights earlier, the Pens came out of the gates 6:25 in taking a lead when Brenden Morrow converted a Mark Eaton pass and they were off.
Credit the Pens for playing good defense, having that one goal lead stand up into the second period when Pittsburgh converged on the net on the power play. Craig Anderson could only hold on for so long before James Neal batted in a goal. Five minutes later, with the game at four-on-four, Kris Letang used that open ice to cut in the middle of the ice and roof a beauty for a 3-0 lead.
Ottawa wouldn't go away, as Jason Spezza made a great pass from behind the net to Milan Michalek, who beat a helpless Tomas Vokoun to make the score 3-1. But before the period could end, Evgeni Malkin stole a puck at center ice and got it over to Neal. Neal made a hard pass back to Malkin, who was all alone on a breakaway and snapped a shot by Anderson.
By that point, at 4-1 after two periods, it was pretty much all she wrote. But the third period was played, with Neal stealing a Sergei Gonchar clearing attempt from right in front to make it 5-1. Ottawa would get one more back when Kyle Turris skated by Letang and took a nice shot. Neal would complete his hat-trick on a ridiculous toe-drag move past Norris trophy winner Erik Karlsson.
That's it and that's all. Two round down, with two more hopefully to go. Some more thoughts on the game..
- It was Neal's night. The play he made on Gonchar's attempted clear was amazing. The puck just velcro'd to his stick. The toe-drag he made on Karlsson, then the high, hard shot to beat Anderson was even better. Neal's got five goals in the past two games, and from a guy coming off ankle and a head injury in the past couple of months, it's great for the team to see him rounding into form.
- Kris Letang giveth and Kris Letang taketh. At times, his pure brilliance can make you raise out of your seat. At times, his decisions defensively make you shake your head. But, at the end of the game tonight, 1 goal, 2 assists and a ton of skating and reason why the Pens ended up closing it out.
- A quiet 29 save on 31 shot night for Vokoun. He obviously shut the door on the Sens, but he didn't have to make many spectacular saves. That said, Vokoun has provided such a measure of stability and consistency that has been the most important thing about it. The team in front of him did a good job of blocking shots (13 of them) and again keeping the majority of Ottawa's advances to less-dangerous scoring areas. If the goalie position for the Pens can be quiet, we'll take it every time.
- Sidney Crosby won 21 of his 31 faceoffs. After early series struggles, good to see him bounce back in the circle there.
- Very, very, very good night for Matt Cooke. His play to out-work the opposition directly led to the game's first goal. His stat-line on the night also read for 2 shots on goal, 5 hits and 2 blocked shots. For a man with such a target on his back against this opponent he played a very optimal game.
- Something we've touched upon last game and now again: a blow-out means an equal share of ice-time. Letang, Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin are heavily relied on and for the second game in a row again got to play a relatively low 22-24 minutes a night a piece. Ditto Jarome Iginla (10:22), Malkin (15:50), Crosby (19:57). Even James Neal's hat trick came in a low 12:42 played. Sometimes it's not winning, but how you win, and this was not a terribly taxing game to play.
- Or, let's hope so for Chris Kunitz, who for the second straight game missed (or was with-held) from a couple shifts here and there late. It was a quiet night from CK14, but given how Neal, Letang and Malkin played, they didn't need him to do much.
- Chris Neil with a reprehensible spear below the belt to Douglas Murray, followed by an equally reprehensible string of vulgarity and homophobic slurs picked up by television cameras. It's sad, but that's Chris Neil.
- Lastly, not to leave it on a bad note for Ottawa, let's hope that Daniel Alfredsson decides to play one more season in the NHL. The old boy still proved to be one of Ottawa's best forwards out there and still has the ability to play some more. We're not that worried about Gonchar, who's been clear about playing for Russia in the Olympics next season. Either via the KHL or NHL, he's a solid bet to play one more year. We just hope, Alfredsson will do that same.
And as the final buzzer hit, it was time to shake hands with the Senators, a willing but ultimately defeated opponent. And time to put the "Pens are 0-6 at home when they can clinch under Dan Bylsma" stat to rest for good. It's time to move on for all of that to the Eastern Conference finals. The Penguins aren't quite where they want to be, but they're one step closer.