Penguins down Senators 6-2, beating Ottawa 4-1 in semi-finals series
Boston or the New York Rangers? To be honest, Ottawa's Daniel Alfredsson does not think it matters whom the Pittsburgh Penguins face in the Eastern Conference finals.
At the moment, he believes the Penguins are a cut above.
"I think they would be the favourite to play either of those two teams," Alfredsson said. "They have skill, speed, they're well coached and they have a lot of experience as well. So they're going to be a tough team to beat."
Certainly too tough for the Senators.
James Neal recorded his first play-off hat-trick and Pittsburgh reached the conference finals for the first time since 2009 with a 6-2 dismantling of Ottawa, winning the best-of-seven series in five games. The Penguins improved to 8-3 in the postseason.
Eight more wins and they will hoist the Stanley Cup for the fourth time in franchise history.
"The further you go, the tougher it gets," Penguins defenceman Doug Murray said. "Every player starts smelling the end result."
Certainly it is wafting through the Pittsburgh dressing room after the Penguins dominated one of the NHL's best defensive teams 22 goals in five games, including 12 in the last five periods.
"We got to our game a lot," Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby said. "The depth we showed, different guys chipping in. The whole way through we didn't have many lulls."
Kris Letang, Evgeni Malkin and Brenden Morrow also scored, and Tomas Vokoun made 29 saves as top-seeded Pittsburgh ended Ottawa's season for the third time in five years.
Milan Michalek and Kyle Turris scored for the Senators. Craig Anderson stopped 27 shots, but Ottawa simply could not keep up.
"I hope [the Penguins] don't bill us for the clinic," Senators coach Paul MacLean said.
"But they really showed the step you have to take to continue to play in the Stanley Cup play-offs."
The Penguins expected desperation from a team trying to extend their season for at least another 48 hours. Instead, the Senators offered only resignation. "We gave them too many freebie chances, and you're not going to beat a team like that when they get as many chances as they had," Senators forward Jason Spezza said.
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.