PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – With a thrilling Game 7 win over the Washington Capitals, the Pittsburgh Penguins punched their ticket to the Eastern Conference Final for a second straight year.
Standing in their way of another trip to the Stanley Cup Final are the Ottawa Senators.
So, can the Penguins take the next step in their title defense or will the upstart Senators prove too much to handle?
Here’s what our experts think:
Bob Pompeani KDKA-TV:
Of the remaining four teams in the NHL playoffs, the defending champion Penguins have the best odds, and rightfully so.
What is of concern for the other three teams, the Penguins might have finally found their game, which has been missing for most of the playoffs.
Game 7 of the Caps series was the first time, IN MY OPINION, that they looked like the team that won it all last year.
The Penguins led all NHL teams in the regular season in the category of average shots on goal (34), yet, in the post-season, they have been routinely outshot and out-chanced.
In fact, they became the first NHL playoff team since 2012 to win a series despite being outshot in EVERY game.
This all bodes well for the Penguins, who might now see their team springboard to even better play.
This is not good news for the Senators, who have become a very good story. The last Canadian team remaining in the playoffs. Shockingly, NO Canadian team has won a Stanley Cup since 1993, when the Montreal Canadiens took it home.
They are a good, young team, which is led by the terrific two-time Norris winner Erik Karlsson, who leads them with 13 playoff points despite a foot injury.
They have played well against two good teams in the playoffs eliminating both the Bruins and Rangers in six games.
They have won lots of close games and are 5-1 in overtime games this year.
But, I have a hard time believing they will able to keep pace offensively with the Penguins.
They will need their goaltender Craig Anderson at his very best. He stopped 37 of 39 Ranger shots in Game 6 to outperform Henrik Lundqvist.
But, the Penguins have high stakes offensive players. The last time the Penguins saw Anderson this year, they chased him in an 8-5 win. Mike Condon was in goal for the two Ottawa wins, but he won’t play over Anderson.
Bottom line, for me, experience over exuberance. I see the Penguins winning in FIVE games and advancing to another Cup finals, where they will have a chance to repeat as champs for the first time in 20 NHL seasons.
Rich Walsh – KDKA-TV
It’s really hard to pick against the Penguins right now. The Senators took two out of three against the Pens during the regular season, but we know the regular season doesn’t matter now.
The Pens are coming off their best game of the post season in Game 7 in Washington. They have been here before and know how to win. That goes a long way in the post-season.
There hasn’t been a challenge that they haven’t faced and overcame the last two post-seasons. The Pens will take Games 1 and 2 at home. I think they will lose one in Ottawa and come back home with an opportunity to win the series on home ice in Game 5.
I don’t think they will squander it this time with the Stanley Cup Finals on the line.
I like Pens in 5.
Josh Taylor – KDKA-TV
Don’t be fooled by the wins Ottawa had against the Penguins during the regular season. Both of those games were started with Mike Condon in net, but in Craig Anderson’s only start against the Pens, he allowed seven goals in an 8-5 loss at PPG Paints Arena back in December.
Ottawa’s 1-3-1 defense might be tricky for most teams to figure out, but the Pens should have no problem scoring against it. Matt Cullen said as much Friday morning: The positive is that we can create offense from down low in the corners, or on the rush, or spending time in the [offensive] zone. We’re just going to have to be confident with our ability to generate offense in other ways.” I think they’ll do just that.
Pens in 5 games.
Casey Shea – Shea-ved Ice Blog, KDKA.com
Heading into Game 7 against Washington, I will admit that I was not sure that the Penguins had enough left in the tank. They looked gassed and completely out of sorts. It felt like even if they squeaked out a win, the Senators would be able to take advantage of a team that had been put through the ringer.
But, the Penguins made a statement in Game 7. They showed why they are the defending champs.
They looked like a whole new team, one with a renewed sense of urgency. The stars came to play, the depth guys stepped up and Marc-Andre Fleury continued to shine.
It’s that complete performance and will to win, which has made me completely change my mind about this series.
With home-ice advantage and the team seemingly having woken up, I can’t see the Penguins losing this series.
Pittsburgh’s star power advantage will be enough to propel the Penguins to the Stanley Cup Final for the second straight year.
Pens in 5.
Chris Mueller – 93-7 The Fan
Penguins in 5.
I say this because the Senators could always have a surprise or two up their sleeves, but the Pens are too good, even without Kris Letang. Erik Karlsson is the best opposing player (yes, including Ovechkin) that the Penguins will have seen this postseason, and he’s able to control games from the blue line much like Letang, but he doesn’t have enough help around him to put the Sens over the top.
Plus, goalie Craig Anderson has been broken by the Penguins in the playoffs before, and I expect that to happen again.
Colin Dunlap – 93-7 The Fan
Penguins in 5 games.
The recent play of Marc-Andre Fleury has me thinking he will carry this over to the Ottawa series.
In addition to that, Jake Guentzel has provided a very solid complementary piece on the top line for Sidney Crosby. With those two things the hallmark of the defense and offense, the Pens should make quick work of Ottawa.
Andrew Fillipponi – 93-7 The Fan
Senators in 7.
I just think we’re going to look back on these playoffs as a transformational, career-defining run for Ottawa defenseman Erik Karlsson.
He’s playing like Bobby Orr.
It’s more than just points. He’s blocking shots. He’s carrying this team. The Senators are a different team when scoring the first goal because of their defensive systems. It’s hard to get the puck into their zone and sustain pressure.
The Penguins have a reputation for playing poorly in first periods. Early deficits will lead to disappointing losses.
Jim Colony – 93-7 The Fan
Penguins in 6.
I always pick Pens in six games, although in this case the series may only last five games. The Penguins are just better.
A potential problem, though – injuries; they may not be able to sustain too many more on defense.
Robert Suhr – NewsRadio 1020 KDKA
Ottawa in 7.
Senators captain Erik Karlsson appears to have put the whole team on his back, despite playing with an injured foot. He is regarded as the best defenseman in the world right now.
It will be interesting to see how Sidney Crosby handles Karlsson.
This will be a completely different series than what we’ve seen so far this postseason against the Bluejackets and Capitals.
Where those series were about speed and physicality, the Senators will try to grind play to a snail’s pace. Their so-called “Kanata Wall” on defense is made to push everything to the outside and clog of the center of the ice by playing a 1-3-1 formation.
This could frustrate the built for speed Penguins, just like it did for the New York Rangers, who showed flashes of being able to solve the new look neutral zone trap, but in the end were unsuccessful.
Goaltending will also be a huge factor, but I give a slight edge to Senators netminder Craig Anderson, who has looked rock solid in net this postseason.
Oh, by the way, the Pens were just 1-1-1 vs Ottawa in the regular season, losing both games in Ottawa.
Josh Miller – 93-7 The Fan
It’s all about Flower (Marc-Andre Fleury) getting the proper send-off. Everyone in that locker room wants him to go out a champion. Flower is loved, Pens in six.
Ron Cook – 93-7 The Fan
I didn’t think the Penguins could win the Stanley Cup without Kris Letang, but I’ve changed my mind after watching them somehow get by the Washington Capitals, a better team than them and the best team in the NHL.
Penguins in six games against Ottawa.
Joe Starkey – 93-7 The Fan
Penguins in 5.
The Senators are average across the board and have been living on the edge in the playoffs. The Penguins finally rediscovered their identity in Game 7 against Washington. The Penguins’ star power rules the day here.
Paul Zeise – 93-7 The Fan
Penguins in 4
Hell with it. I think Ottawa is a fake Eastern Conference Finalist. They are here because they were the best of the rubbish at the bottom half of the conference. Erik Karlsson is a great player, but he is a one-man band and that ain’t gonna be enough. Penguins have too much star power and experience for the Senators.