The high-flying Senators can kick back and relax for a few days and await their second-round opponent, likely the New York Rangers or New Jersey Devils, after disposing of the upstart Penguins with relative ease Thursday night, a 3-0 win in Game 5 that terminated a series that was never that close.
Dany Heatley, Antoine Vermette and Chris Kelly scored second-period goals and the Senators advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the second straight season and fifth time in franchise history, cheered loudly to the dressing room by 20,179 fans at Scotiabank Place that hope this is finally their year.
Ray Emery made 20 saves for his first career playoff shutout and got the better of Marc-Andre Fleury in the goalie matchup, although the Pens netminder was the busier of the two in all five games.
“Ray Emery had to be the star of the series as the series went on,” said Senators coach Bryan Murray. “Him and (Senators captain Daniel) Alfredsson were the two guys that got this team to where we are.”
Sidney Crosby’s first career playoffs weren’t too bad at all, the 19-year-old superstar clearly the best player from the losing side in this series, rising to the occasion and giving the Senators all they could handle with five points (3-2) in five games.
But credit Senators defencemen Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov for doing an excellent checking job on the NHL’s leading scorer.
“I really think that Phillips and Volchenkov were the key,” Murray said. “We took away his drive as much as we could because this guy (Crosby) drives the net and moves the puck better than anybody in the league, that’s why he gets all the points. But I thought our D did a really good job there. Those two guys (Phillips and Volchenkov) deserve a big pat on the back.”
While Crosby shined, 20-year-old rookie Russian Evgeni Malkin did not, his four assists in the series camouflaging what was really an invisible effort. But like the rest of his young teammates, he’ll be better for the experience and back for plenty more playoff games in years to come.
“We’ve got nothing to be ashamed of,” said Penguins coach Michel Therrien. “We got beat by a great hockey team that has a chance to win the Stanley Cup.
“Our young kids got a lot of experience from this. You look at the big picture, we had a great year. We have a good future.”
But the time is now for the talented Senators, whose four-line attack and deep-six blue-line was way too much to handle for Pittsburgh. Kelly, the third-line centre, had three goals in the series, just one example of Ottawa’s priceless depth.
After a scoreless first period Thursday that began with Pittsburgh wasting back-to-back 5-on-3 power plays, 50-goal man Heatley opened the scoring 1:08 into the middle frame, one-timing a Daniel Alfredsson pass on a power play. That has to feel good for Heatley, who hadn’t scored since Game 1.
Then it was the Mike Fisher show, the centre hammering Jordan Staal and Michel Ouellet with big hits and then nearly scoring, but Fleury robbed him with a big glove save.
Vermette, on a nice feed from Chris Neil, made it 2-0 with a breakaway goal at 6:20 while Kelly had the fans back on their feet with 2:05 left in the period, jumping on a loose puck and beating Fleury stick side to make it 3-0.
“We were up against a team that battled hard every shift that team,” said veteran Penguins winger Gary Roberts. “They’ve been through it before and they know what it takes now. They definitely played the best hockey I’ve seen them play in years.
You’ve got to take your hat off to them. They competed hard, they’re well-coached and they beat us fair and square.”
Notes: The Devils are tied 2-2 in their series with Tampa. Should the Lightning win, Ottawa draws the Rangers. A Devils win sets up an Ottawa-New Jersey series. Should the Islanders come back and beat Buffalo and Tampa beats New Jersey, then it’s Sens-Isles in the second round … Tough guy Georges Laraque was back in the Penguins lineup for the first time since Game 1, replacing forward Nils Ekman. Joining Ekman in the press box were forwards Ronald Petrovicky and Chris Thorburn as well as defencemen Joel Kiatkowski and Alain Nasreddine … Winger Patrick Eaves (head injury) remained out for Ottawa while tough guy Brian McGrattan and defenceman Lawrence Nycholat were healthy scratches.