EIGHT PLAYOFF wins down, eight to go for Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
James Neal had a hat trick and the Penguins finished off the lifeless Ottawa Senators, 6-2, last night in Game 5 of the Eastern conference semifinals to take the best-of-seven series 4-1.
Kris Letang, Evgeni Malkin and Brenden Morrow also scored, and Tomas Vokoun made 29 saves as top-seeded Pittsburgh strolled to the next round. The Penguins will face Boston or the New York Rangers in the conference finals. The Bruins lead that series, 3-1, with Game 5 today in Boston.
Milan Michalek and Kyle Turris scored for Ottawa. Craig Anderson stopped 27 shots, but the Senators simply couldn't keep up as the Penguins ended the Ottawa's season for the third time in the last 5 years.
The Penguins expected desperation from a team trying to extend its season for at least another 48 hours. Instead, the Senators offered only resignation.
Outskated, outshot and outworked from the opening faceoff, Ottawa put up little resistance as Pittsburgh moved on to the conference finals for the first time since 2009, when the franchise won its third Stanley Cup.
The series win was the seventh for the Penguins under coach Dan Bylsma but the first deciding victory to come on home ice. Pittsburgh had gone 0-6 at home in potential series enders, something Bylsma's players insisted was an anomaly.
Pittsburgh made sure a trip to Canada for Game 6 wouldn't be necessary, turning Ottawa forward Daniel Alfredsson into a prophet of sorts. The NHL's longest-tenured captain said the Senators "probably" couldn't rally to win the series after a 7-3 home loss in Game 4.
Alfredsson clarified his remarks the next, insisting his team still had a chance. It didn't take long for slim to turn into none.
Ottawa hadn't overcome a deficit bigger than one goal in the postseason and Neal ensured there would be no meltdown by the Penguins. A pair of sizzling wrist shots in the third period gave him his first career playoff hat trick and sent the Penguins roaring into hockey's final four.