Eight playoff wins down, eight to go for Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
James Neal had a hat-trick as the Penguins finished off the lifeless Ottawa Senators 6-2 on Friday in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference semi-finals to take the best-of-seven series 4-1.
Kris Letang, Evgeni Malkin and Brenden Morrow also scored, while Tomas Vokoun made 29 saves as top-seeded Pittsburgh strolled into the next round.
The Penguins will face the Boston Bruins or the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference finals.
Milan Michalek and Kyle Turris scored for Ottawa, while Craig Anderson stopped 27 shots, but the Senators simply could not keep up as the Penguins ended Ottawa’s season for the third time in the past five years.
The Penguins expected desperation from a team trying to extend their season for at least another 48 hours. Instead, the Senators offered only resignation.
Outskated, outshot and outworked from the opening face-off, Ottawa put up little resistance as Pittsburgh moved on to the conference finals for the first time since 2009, when they won their third Stanley Cup.
Sluggish from the opening face-off, the Senators slogged through the game’s first 10 minutes, long enough for Morrow to pay immediate dividends on 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 minutes, 25 seconds into the first period while scoring the kind of goal the Penguins expected out of him when they acquired the 34-year-old from Dallas just before the trade deadline.
Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke beat a Senator to a loose puck along the halfboards and then zipped a cross-ice pass to defenseman Mark Eaton. Morrow skated to the net and lifted his stick up to draw Eaton’s attention. Eaton patiently waited for Morrow to get in front of the crease, before throwing a puck toward the net that deflected off Morrow’s skate and in.
Neal scored for the third time in two games when he poked in an idle rebound on a power play to put Pittsburgh 2-0 up 7:38 into the second period. Letang followed with a wrist-shot over Anderson’s glove at the end of a three-on-two break to make it 3-0.
Michalek briefly made it competitive with a beautiful deke around Vokoun to pull the Senators to 3-1 with 3:48 left in the second period, but Malkin scored his fourth goal of the playoffs on a breakaway just before the intermission to restore the three-goal lead.