James Neal scored three goals as the Pittsburgh Penguins bombed the Ottawa Senators 6-2 in Game 5 on Friday night at Consol Energy Center, clinching a spot in the Eastern Conference final for the first time since 2009.
The Penguins scored the first three goals and held off the visiting Senators, the first time in seven chances a Dan Bylsma-coached team had wrapped up a Stanley Cup playoff series at home. Pittsburgh scored 22 total goals against Ottawa, increasing its postseason average to an NHL-best 4.27 per game.
Brenden Morrow, Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin also scored for the Penguins, who will face the winner of the Bruins-Rangers East semifinal. Boston currently leads the best-of-seven matchup three games to one, with Game 5 scheduled for Saturday evening.
Tomas Vokoun improved his playoff record to 6-1, making 29 saves in perhaps his most comfortable victory since taking over for Penguins No. 1 goalie Marc-Andre Fleury prior to Game 5 of the first round. The 36-year-old has the second-best save percentage (.941) and third-best goals-against average (1.85) among playoff netminders.
Milan Michalek and Kyle Turris netted goals for the Senators. Ottawa, which got 27 saves from Craig Anderson, finished the playoffs with a 5-5 record after eliminating the Canadiens in five games in the first round.
The Senators encountered a completely different beast in the second round, however, as the second-best defensive team in the regular season capitulated to the powerful Penguins. Pittsburgh heads to the East final with four of the top five postseason scorers.
Malkin and Letang are tied for second on the playoff leaderboard with 16 points apiece, and each connected for multiple points Friday night. Sidney Crosby, who had a lone assist in Game 5, has 15 points in 10 postseason games, while Jarome Iginla has 12.
Morrow missed Game 4, a 7-3 Penguins win, due to an undisclosed injury, but he hopped right back into relevance with a deflection goal 6:25 into the first period. The veteran acquired from Dallas at the trade deadline redirected a Mark Eaton pass behind Anderson after Matt Cooke gained the offensive zone with speed.
Pittsburgh outshot Ottawa 12-10 in the opening stanza but couldn’t squeeze another puck past Anderson until Neal poked a loose puck into net 7:38 into the second on the Penguins’ first power play of the night. Letang and Crosby earned assists as Anderson lost track of Letang’s centering pass in his feet.
Letang connected for his third of the playoffs during 4-on-4 play with 7:12 remaining in the second, cutting to the middle and gunning a wrister in the top-right corner. Michalek answered for the Senators four minutes later just after a Penguins penalty expired, but Malkin restored the three-goal edge during another 4-on-4 situation with 30 seconds to go before intermission. Neal grabbed a turnover at center and sent the puck ahead for Malkin, who beat Anderson on a breakaway.
Neal and Turris exchanged wrist-shot goals just past the halfway point of the third, and Neal inspired a rain of hats on the ice with 3:39 to go, completing a brilliant curl-and-drag move with a quick shot over Anderson’s glove.
The Eastern Conference final will begin next week at a date yet to be determined. The last time the Penguins advanced this far, they swept Carolina en route to winning their fourth Stanley Cup in franchise history over Detroit.