NHL Playoffs: Penguins beat Senators in 2OT of Game 7 to reach Stanley Cup Final

NHL Playoffs: Penguins beat Senators in 2OT of Game 7 to reach Stanley Cup Final


PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins are heading back to the Stanley Cup Final.

Chris Kunitz beat Craig Anderson 5:09 into the second overtime to give the defending champions a 3-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final Thursday night.

Kunitz scored twice, his first two of the playoffs. Justin Schultz added the other in his return from an upper-body injury, and Matt Murray stopped 28 shots on his 23rd birthday.

The Penguins are trying to become the first team since the Detroit Red Wings in 1998 to win back-to-back titles. They will host Western Conference champion Nashville in Game 1 on Monday night.

Mark Stone and Ryan Dzingel scored for Ottawa. The Senators rallied twice to tie it, with Dzingel making it 2-2 with 5:19 left in regulation.

Craig Anderson made 39 saves, but couldn't get a handle on Kunitz's shot from just outside the left circle. The Senators are 0-6 in Game 7s in franchise history.

The Senators forced a return trip to Pittsburgh -- where they lost 7-0 loss in Game 5 on Sunday -- by leaning heavily on Anderson in a 2-1 Game 6 victory, putting both teams at odds with history.

Ottawa came in 0-for-25 years in winner-take-all games, while the Penguins were 0-7 in Game 7s at home in series in which they also dropped Game 6.

Ottawa coach Guy Boucher told his resilient team to not get caught up in the big picture but instead focus on the small ones, a recipe that carried the Senators throughout a bumpy transition under their first-year head coach to the brink of the franchise's second Cup appearance.

The Penguins, trying to become the first defending champion to return to the finals since Detroit in 2009, came in confident they would advance if they could replicate their dominant Game 6, when they were undone only by Anderson's brilliance.

Pittsburgh has been nearly unflappable in the face of adversity under Mike Sullivan, going 12-2 in playoff games following a loss over the last two springs. He encouraged his team to "just play," code for fighting through Ottawa's neutral zone-clogging style and the bumping, grabbing and pulling that comes along with it.

A chance to play for their sport's ultimate prize on the line, the sheets of open ice the Penguins found so easily in Games 4-6 closed up. For most of the first 30 minutes, loose pucks hopped over sticks to spoil some scoring opportunities while Anderson and Murray gobbled up the rest.

Kunitz, relegated to the fourth line since returning from injury in the second round, picked up his first postseason goal in a calendar year when he completed a two-on-one with Conor Sheary -- a healthy scratch in Games 5 and 6 -- by slipping the puck by Anderson 9:55 into the second period.

The momentum lasted all of 20 seconds. Ottawa responded immediately with Stone -- who stretched his left skate to stay onside -- fired a wrist shot that handcuffed Murray.

Pittsburgh kept coming. Schultz, returning after missing four games with an upper-body injury, zipped a shot from the point through Kunitz's screen and into the net with 8:16 left in the third.

Once again, the Penguins could not hold the lead. Dzingel set up at the right post and banged home a rebound off Erik Karlsson's shot that hit the left post and caromed off Murray's back right to Dzingel's stick.

The home team is 21-20 in overtime Game 7s in NHL playoff history. ... Pittsburgh F Patric Hornqvist skated during warmups, but was held out of the lineup for a sixth straight game with an upper-body injury. ... Karlsson had 16 assists in the playoffs to set a team record. ... The Penguins are 10-7 in Game 7s. ... It was the fifth one-goal game of the series.

Andrew MacDonald set to return; Flyers could lose another player through waivers

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Andrew MacDonald set to return; Flyers could lose another player through waivers

After the Flyers laid out an initial prognosis that defenseman Andrew MacDonald would miss the first few weeks of the regular season, it turns out the Flyers defenseman will be ready for the season opener on Oct. 4 in Las Vegas.

“He’s good to go,” general manager Ron Hextall said. “I’ve been watching him for awhile. He seems to have an ability to heal quickly and he’s done it again.”

The Flyers also expect to work MacDonald into a couple of the remaining preseason games.

MacDonald’s importance to the Flyers' blue line can’t be understated. Last season, he missed games with a lower-body injury, the result of a blocked shot, and the Flyers proceeded to win just three of their next 15 games, going 3-6-6 during that stretch. 

MacDonald’s presence should also help stabilize the defensive pairings, as he’ll likely work with Robert Hägg, who has struggled recently, to start the season with Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere comprising the top pairing.

After losing Martel, Flyers fear there could be more 

Organizationally, the Flyers appear stacked at the forward position, and so it didn’t come as much of a surprise to see the Tampa Bay Lightning claim 5-foot-9 forward Danick Martel off waivers Saturday (see story).

The move ensures Martel will be on the Lightning’s opening night roster, where there wasn’t much of a fit on the Flyers.

“The system is set up for guys like that,” Hextall said. “Good for Danick. It’s probably not the last time it’s going to happen to us in the next few years. We’ve got a lot of players and we’ve got a lot of good young players. We certainly would have liked to keep (Danick) in the system, but that’s the way the device is made for, to give a guy a chance.” 

If prospects Mikhail Vorobyev, Carsen Twarynski or Phil Myers make the team’s final roster, the Flyers would have to make room by placing a veteran such as, Michael Raffl, Dale Weise or Jori Lehtera on waivers to create the necessary roster space. 

Other injury updates

A day after coming off the ice prematurely, center Sean Couturier is dealing with soreness which kept him out of practice on Sunday. The Flyers still expect Couturier to play in at least one, if not two, preseason games.

Defenseman Travis Sanheim remains on track to resume skating this week. The Flyers' second-year defenseman has not practiced since sustaining an upper-body injury after he was driven into the boards by the Islanders' Matt Martin last Sunday in the Flyers' preseason opener.  

Wayne Simmonds continues to maintain his diligent preseason regimen. The Flyers' power forward says he's “pretty antsy” to get in some needed game action. Simmonds was working with the top power play unit — a group that also included Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, Shayne Gostisbehere and Mikhail Vorobyev. The Flyers are aiming for Simmonds to see action in at least one of the final two preseason games.

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What Carter Hart can learn from Shayne Gostisbehere's rookie season

What Carter Hart can learn from Shayne Gostisbehere's rookie season

Ron Hextall has exercised as much extreme caution and due diligence when it comes to throwing a young promising prospect into the frying pan of an NHL rink.

But Nov. 14, 2015, will always be a day when the Flyers' general manager and the entire organization was forced to deviate from the plan.

And for the better.

With an injury to Mark Streit, the Flyers were desperate for a puck-moving defenseman to bring an offensive punch to their blue line. The five healthy blueliners were Nick Schultz, Radko Gudas, Brandon Manning, Michael Del Zotto and Luke Schenn.

The Flyers were begging for a player of Shayne Gostisbehere’s abilities. That night, Gostisbehere assisted on the Flyers' game-tying goal before Jake Voracek provided the overtime game-winner to beat the Hurricanes in overtime. Three nights later, Gostisbehere ripped a power-play slap shot past Jonathan Quick for his first NHL goal.

Seventeen months after leading Union College to a national championship in Philadelphia, GhostMania was sweeping over the Wells Fargo Center once again, and it never stopped. Ideally, the Flyers wanted Gostisbehere to spend a full season with the Phantoms, but that egg hatched well before the timer expired.

Gostisbehere went on an amazing tear in January, scoring a point in 15 straight games to set a new NHL record for a rookie defenseman. When March rolled around, he was easily logging over 20 minutes a night.

“Play your game, do your thing,” Gostisbehere said, “When all of that stuff was happening with me and everything going so well, I think the most important thing is the guys in this room keeping you down to Earth and your family and your support system don’t let you get too big of a head. It was crazy, but it was a fun ride.”

And the Flyers' goaltending carousel always seems to be one crazy, never-ending ride.

Sunday, general manager Ron Hextall added to the ongoing drama by declaring Michal Neuvirth doubtful for the season opener in Vegas with an injury he labeled as “not day to day,” which leaves the Flyers with Brian Elliott, Anthony Stolarz and Carter Hart as their only healthy goaltending options.

As he did with Gostisbehere three years ago, Hextall is hesitant to heap too much praise on Hart despite the rookie’s impressive body of work in the preseason with a 1.20 goals against average and a .957 save percentage, and ideally would prefer the 20-year-old Hart to receive a significant workload in Lehigh Valley before he’s thrust into the NHL spotlight. 

“If it’s right for the team, sometimes you have to do it,” Hextall said. “I haven’t ruled out anybody who’s on the ice with our team right now.”  

Three years ago, Hextall had no choice in elevating Gostisbehere from Lehigh Valley, where the defenseman had just 14 games under his belt. Now, here we are 11 days removed from the regular season and the Hart era seems to be one heartbeat or hip injury away from reality. 

Gostisbehere remembers the support system he had in 2015, and with the same core group in the Flyers' dressing room, the team's fourth-year defenseman can’t see why Hart can’t have the same level of success if given the opportunity.   

“It’s you against the world. If you do bad, it’s not the worst thing in the world,” Gostisbehere said. “He will kill it because he’s such a good goaltender. When he gets a chance, I know he’ll be ready.”

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