|Posted by Landon Ewaniuk on May 25, 2013 at 3:40 PM|
While they may have been the best team in the Eastern Conference during the regular season, the Pittsburgh Penguins may be even better in the playoffs.
James Neal recorded his first career postseason hat trick and Tomas Vokoun made 29 saves to help the Penguins advance to the conference finals for the first time since 2009 with a 6-2 victory over the fourth-seeded Ottawa Senators in Game 5 on Friday night in Pittsburgh.
The series was every bit as lopsided as the 4-1 tally would indicate, with the top-seeded Penguins leading for all but 17 minutes of the series.
While such a performance surely caught the Senators off-guard, it came as a mild shock to the Penguins as well.
''We gave them the respect they deserved and we came out and I think we surprised ourselves,'' Neal said. ''We played with a lot of speed and got it behind them and got to the net.''
Pittsburgh wasted no time taking the lead in this contest, striking first with Brenden Morrow’s goal with 13:35 left in the first period. As much as the Senators were outworked in the first, they were still in it heading into the intermission, with the score remaining 1-0.
Neal scored the first of his trifecta with 12:22 remaining in the second when he poked a loose puck into the net on a power play. Kris Letang added his third goal of the postseason with 7:12 left on a wrist shot to give the Penguins a 3-0 lead and all but put the game out-of-reach.
Milan Michalek would score four minutes later to breathe some life back into the Senators, but that was quickly countered with a breakaway goal by Evgeni Malkin just 30 seconds before the second intermission that gave Pittsburgh an insurmountable 4-1 lead entering the final stanza.
Neal’s second score came midway through the third period to increase the margin to 5-1. His finale with less than three minutes left followed an all-but-meaningless goal by Ottawa’s Kyle Turris.
''We gave them too many freebie chances and you're not going to beat a team like that when they get as many chances as they had,'' Ottawa forward Jason Spezza said.
The 22 goals scored in five games came against one of the NHL’s best defensive teams. Goalie Craig Anderson did stop 27 shots, but, with the puck on his side of the ice for most of the game, he simply could not keep up.
Ottawa coach Paul MacLean further confirmed the Penguins onslaught, saying ''I hope (the Penguins) don't bill us for the clinic. But they really showed the step you have to take to continue to play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.''
The Penguins attack was well-balanced and not limited to Neal; eight different players recorded assists, led by Letang’s two. He now has 13 assists in just 11 postseason games.
With the loss, the Senators dropped to 0-6 in franchise history in series’ where they faced a 3-1 deficit. The Penguins have ended Ottawa’s season in three of the past five years.
Pittsburgh is now 23-7 on their home ice in the 2012-13 season, including 5-1 in the playoffs. The series-clincher was the first at home for coach Dan Bylsma; the previous six in his tenure came away from the Steel City. They await the winner of a Bruins-Rangers series which Boston leads 3-1; Game 5 is set for tonight at the TD Garden.
Categories: NHL Game Recap