The Pittsburgh Penguins showed the heart of a champion by holding off the Washington Capitals in Game Seven on Wednesday. The win sent the defending Stanley Cup champions on to the conference finals for the second straight season and left the team with the best record in the regular season getting ready for the golf course. The only thing standing in Pittsburgh’s way of repeating as Eastern Conference champs are Canada’s last hope to hoist the Cup, the Ottawa Senators.
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Home ice reigned supreme in the three games these teams played against each other in the regular season. In the one game in Pittsburgh, the Penguins lit the lamp eight times, with Game 7 hero Bryan Rust picking up his first career hat trick in the win.
The script was flipped in the two games in Ottawa though. The Senators held the Penguins’ vaunted offense to just one goal per game when these team’s squared off in Canada’s capital, both Ottawa wins. Ottawa needs to win at least one game in the Steel City, but it’s been three years since Pittsburgh dropped a home game to Ottawa.
Matchup to Watch
The best offense in the NHL will be facing off against the team that was 22nd in the league in scoring in the regular season in this game. Pittsburgh averaged almost a goal per game more than Ottawa did in the regular season and has far more talent on the offensive end. Whereas Pittsburgh had three different players who finished the season with at least 70 points, Ottawa has just one, and can’t afford to get into a shootout.
Instead, look for Ottawa to try to use Pittsburgh’s blueprint against Washington. The Senators are going to settle in and play solid defense in front of their net and then find little places to counterattack. Ottawa will likely end up losing the shots on goal battle in this game, and throughout the series, but it won’t matter if the Sens can put more pucks in the net.
Player to Watch
Marc-Andre Fleury has had some postseason struggles in the past, but has been lights out this time around. Fleury was solid against Columbus in the first round with a .933 save percentage and survived a barrage of shots in Game 2 and Game 5 to pick up wins to end that series early.
That was nothing compared to his performance in the series against Washington though. Sure, he gave up nine goals in Game 5 and Game 6, but he was swarmed by a hungry Capitals team that dominated possession and the run of play. In Game 7, he shined his brightest, pitching his first shutout of the playoffs when it mattered first. However, he did allow four goals in half a game of action in his one appearance against Ottawa this year.
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Ottawa has an extra day of rest, but must play in Pittsburgh for this one. Sidney Crosby will benefit from a couple days off after a tough series and many expect him to be able to play in Game 1 after playing in the last three games against Washington despite a concussion.
The key to this one is going to be Craig Anderson. He saw a bevy of shots against the Rangers and had mixed results, but the team has faith that he is the goalie that will lead them throughout. Ottawa’s best offensive weapon is a defender, so the team needs Anderson to have a solid start to the series.
NHL Playoff Odds: Penguins 4, Senators 2
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