The Ottawa Senators are in the conference finals for the third time in franchise history and first since 2007, when they fell to the Anaheim Ducks in the Stanley Cup Finals. Standing in the Senators’ way of a second trip to the Cup Finals is defending champion Pittsburgh and superstar Sidney Crosby. The Penguins are series favourites on Sports Interaction NHL odds, but the Senators are used to being underdogs.
Ottawa Senators at Pittsburgh Penguins, Game 1
Perhaps I shouldn’t be the one previewing an Ottawa series as I’m 0-2 picking against the Senators in these playoffs. They were +110 series underdogs at Sports Interaction in the first round against Original Six club Boston and won that series in six, with every game decided by one goal and four going to overtime. In the conference semifinals, Ottawa was a +108 dog on the series line against Original Six club the New York Rangers and won that in Game 6 on Tuesday.
No player is going to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP if his team doesn’t win the Stanley Cup. However, if you had to give that award to someone through two rounds, it would have to be Senators defenseman and two-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson. He leads the Senators and all NHL blueliners in these playoffs with 13 points (2G, 11 A). Karlsson has been on the ice for the game-winning goal in each Ottawa victory. He had the game-winning assist in Games 3-4 vs. Boston and Game 5 vs. the Rangers. Karlsson had the winning goal in Games 1 & 6 vs. New York. He is the first defenseman in Senators history to score multiple game-winning goals in a single postseason and is averaging a whopping 28:57 of ice time per night.
Craig Anderson had 37 saves in the clincher against the Rangers and now has 18 career playoff wins, tying Ray Emery for second in franchise history. Anderson, a finalist for the 2017 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, is 8-4 with a 2.49 GAA and .914 save percentage in these playoffs, outplaying former Vezina Trophy winners Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers and Tuukka Rask of the Bruins.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau blew up against the Rangers with six goals, a career-high four of those coming in the Game 2 6-5 double-OT win. The 24-year-old Ottawa native will never have to buy another drink in town again after scoring twice in the final 3:19 of Game 2 to tie the score and then netting the winner 2:54 into the second overtime. I don’t believe the Senators take the series without that comeback. Pageau had just 12 goals during the regular season. For an underdog to keep winning, unsung heroes like Pageau must emerge. Ottawa’s penalty-killers continued to impress as the Rangers were just 2-for-24 with the man advantage.
Ottawa was 2-1 vs. Pittsburgh this season, taking the most recent meeting 2-1 in a shootout at home on March 23. That was the game Crosby slashed Sens defenseman Marc Methot and blew up Methot’s finger. Crosby wasn’t penalized or disciplined by the league, which infuriated some Senators. Karlsson led the Sens with seven points (1G, 6A) in the three games. Mike Hoffman had three goals. Anderson was 0-1-0 with a 7.98 GAA and .837 save percentage. Backup Mike Condon was terrific in his two starts.
The Senators are +450 long shots to win their first Stanley Cup.
A cliché is a cliché because it’s usually true. One such cliché is a “champion’s heart.” The Penguins showed just such a thing Wednesday in Game 7 of their conference semifinal at the Washington Capitals, the NHL’s best regular-season team. After losing Games 5-6 by multiple goals each, Pittsburgh bounced the Capitals with 2-0 victory in the team’s best performance of these playoffs. The Caps again failing to reach the conference finals in the Alex Ovechkin Era is going to lead to big changes for that franchise, but that’s a story for another day.
Marc-Andre Fleury stopped all 29 shots Wednesday for his first shutout of these playoffs. Remember, he entered the postseason as the clear No. 2 to Matt Murray, but Murray was scratched with a lower-body injury about an hour before Game 1 of the Penguins’ first-round series against Columbus. Murray is healthy now, but he’s not taking Fleury’s job barring injury or Fleury suddenly slipping. He has a 2.55 GAA and .927 save percentage in the playoffs. This is likely Fleury’s final postseason with the team as he’s widely expected to be traded this offseason because Murray is the future in net.
One can’t project injuries when handicapping any series, but the prospect of Crosby suffering yet another concussion looms any time the Pens take the ice. He missed Game 4 of the Capitals series with a concussion and then took a head-first crash into the boards in Game 6 but came away fine. Crosby also missed the first six games of the regular season because of a concussion. The Cole Harbour native is tied for second on the team in these playoffs with 14 points (4G, 10 A). Evgeni Malkin leads with 18 (5G, 13 A). Jake Guentzel is the unlikely goals leader with nine. The rookie had 16 during the regular season in 40 games.
Two injuries to monitor for the Penguins, who have been ravaged by them all season: defenseman Trevor Daley missed the final two vs. the Caps and winger Carl Hagelin was out Game 7.
This is the fifth postseason meeting between Pittsburgh and Ottawa in the past 11 seasons, first since 2013. Pittsburgh has won three of those four. It took the 2013 conference semifinal in five games and scored 21 goals in those four wins. The series lasted 327 minutes and the Senators led for just 17 of them.
In losing two of three to the Sens during the season, Malkin (1G, 3A) and Bryan Rust (3G, 1A) led Pittsburgh with four points each, both playing in two games. Crosby had one goal. Fleury allowed four goals on 16 shots in his one outing.
The Penguins are +162 favourites to repeat as Cup champions, which no team has done since the Red Wings in 1998.
Senators vs. Penguins Predictions
If you go by regular-season statistics, this looks like a mismatch as the Pens were vastly superior to the Senators in scoring (No. 1 in league) and on the power play (No. 3) and a bit better on the PK. It might actually hurt Pittsburgh that it has home-ice advantage here if it goes to seven games as the franchise is now 6-0 in Game 7s away from Pittsburgh.
No Canadian club has won the Stanley Cup since Montreal in 1993 or made the Finals since Vancouver in 2011. That drought continues. Assuming Crosby stays healthy, Penguins in six (+446).