PITTSBURGH – Eight playoff wins down, eight to go for Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
James Neal had a hat trick and the Penguins finished off the lifeless Ottawa Senators 6-2 on Friday night in Game 5 of the Eastern conference semifinals to take the best-of-seven series 4-1.
Kris Letang, Evgeni Malkin and Brenden Morrow also scored, and Tomas Vokoun made 29 saves as top-seeded Pittsburgh strolled to the next round.
Milan Michalek and Kyle Turris scored for Ottawa. Craig Anderson stopped 27 shots but the Senators simply couldn’t keep up as the Penguins ended Ottawa’s season for the third time in the last five years.
The Penguins expected desperation from a team trying to extend its season for at least another 48 hours. Instead the Senators offered only resignation.
Pittsburgh made sure a trip to Canada for Game 6 wouldn’t be necessary, turning Ottawa forward Daniel Alfredsson into a prophet of sorts. The NHL’s longest-tenured captain said the Senators “probably” couldn’t rally to win the series after a 7-3 home loss in Game 4 on Wednesday.
Sluggish from the opening faceoff, the Senators slogged through the game’s first 10 minutes, long enough for Morrow to pay immediate dividends in his return to the lineup.
The veteran forward was scratched from Game 4 in favor of rookie Beau Bennett but appeared re-energized after the night off. He scored his second goal of the playoffs 6:25 into the first period — just the kind of goal the Penguins expected out of him when they acquired the 34-year-old from Dallas before the trade deadline.
Neal scored for the third time in two games when he poked in an idle rebound on the power play to put Pittsburgh up 2-0 7:38 into the second period. Letang followed with a wrist shot over Anderson’s glove to make it 3-0.
Michalek briefly made it competitive with 3:48 left in the second but Malkin scored his fourth goal of the playoffs on a breakaway just before the intermission to restore the three-goal lead.
A pair of sizzling wrist shots in the third period gave Neal his first career playoff hat trick and sent the Penguins roaring into hockey’s final four.
SHARKS: Coach Todd McLellan anticipates a few minor adjustments as San Jose looks to rebound from Thursday’s 3-0 loss at the Los Angeles Kings in their Western Conference semifinal series.
The Sharks return home down 3-2 to the defending Stanley Cup champions. Game 6 is Sunday night.
COYOTES: General Manager Don Maloney, who has directed the NHL-owned team for six years, signed a long-term contract extension.