Published: Fri, May 12, 2017
Sport | By Gary Shelton

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Ottawa Senators: Conference Final preview and predictions

In nine playoff appearances, the Ovechkin era Capitals, who have never advanced to the third round, have made six second-round playoff exits, and were forced out by the Penguins on three of those occasions. They're pretty stingy defensively and their goaltender's been playing really well.

Will the two-time President's Trophy winners keep most of their big pieces and try to reload, or will they sell off their tradable assets and begin anew?

Eastern Conference: (A2) Ottawa Senators vs (M2) Pittsburgh Penguins: Craig Anderson has inspired his team so far to get them to the conference finals for the first time since 2007. All it takes is one year.

Kevin Shattenkirk and Matt Niskanen had trouble clearing the puck out of their own zone and Rust, whose two goals in Game 7 of last year's Eastern Conference Finals sent the Penguins to the Stanley Cup Finals, pounced after a sweet cross-ice feed from Jake Guentzel. It was created to emphasize more intra-division play. He didn't score in the first 12 games in his second season, then had 11 goals in 23 games and then went scoreless in his final 16 games before the injury. It was the most offense Perron has supplied since the 2013-14 season, when he had a career-high 28 goals and 57 points with Edmonton.

"They've got some depth", Crosby said of the Senators.

That wasn't a fluke.

Sorry, Caps fans. Maybe next year.

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Trading away one of the best goal-scorers in the history of hockey will be tough because teams may balk at the price, but there should be plenty of suitable trade partners out there.

Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan, left, waits to greet Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8), from Russian Federation, who is talking with Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) after Game 7 in an NHL hockey Stanley Cup Easter. Backstrom remains a delight, slick-passing and smart.

Come to think of it, that's like matching two NCAA Tournament No. 1 seeds in the Round of 64. But the Capitals walked into Game 7 and watched as Crosby and the Pens put up a whopping six goals in a victory en route to a Stanley Cup.

The NHL undertook this ridiculous format ostensibly to foster rivalries, but all they've done is make it harder for their most accomplished teams to advance.

As the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Penguins are all too familiar with the scrutiny and added attention bestowed upon the NHL's perceived favorite. There was a point in the season when it became apparent that Columbus and Pittsburgh might be advantaged by slipping to fourth place in the Metropolitan Division and avoiding the possibility of playing one another in the first round and Washington in the conference semifinals. Will they be caught up in the moment or will they continue to be aggressive? This was the year Bruce Boudreau was hired midseason, so the future at least looked bright for the franchise. "There's already rivalries between us and Pittsburgh, us and the Rangers".

National Hockey League teams aren't required to disclose injury details, typically referring to them only as upper- or lower-body problems, which made Ottawa captain Erik Karlsson's admission of playing with two hairline fractures in one of his feet so stunning because it came while the Senators were still playing.

That may be more poignant today for Capitals fans, but a fair-minded Pittsburgher can't help but acknowledge how wrong this is.

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