The Pittsburgh Penguins are now four wins away from repeating as the Stanley Cup champions. Chris Kunitz's goal in double overtime clinched Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals on Thursday night, as the Penguins beat the Ottawa Senators 3-2.
The Penguins got out in front of the Senators near the midway point in the second period. Streaking down the ice on a breakaway, Kunitz and Connor Sheary went back and forth with the puck. Coming down the slot, Kunitz collected Sheary's pass and beat Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson with a wrist shot at 9:55. The goal was Kunitz's first since February 16.
Pittsburgh's lead evaporated 20 seconds later. Mark Stone evened the game for visitors from Ottawa at 1-1 after going top shelf.
Justin Schultz gave the Penguins a 2-1 lead in the third. With the Penguins on the power play, Schultz took Phil Kessel's feed and banked a blast off the right pipe and into the back of the net at 11:44. Once again, though, Pittsburgh's lead was short-lived. Less than three minutes later, it was Ryan Dzingel's turn to get the better of Pittsburgh netminder Matt Murray and draw the score even.
Headed into the decisive game between the Senators and Penguins, 40 Game 7s in NHL history had reached overtime. The road team had won 20 of those. The home team, the other 20. Thursday night, the 41st overtime Game 7, ended with a slap shot from Kunitz finding the back of the net for the Penguins 5:09 into the second overtime.
Murray stopped 27 of 29 shots faced to earn the victory and help Pittsburgh punch its ticket to the Stanley Cup Final, where the Penguins will face the Nashville Predators. Anderson made 39 saves in Ottawa's season-ending loss.
1. Happy birthday to you, Mr. Murray
What were you doing on your 23rd birthday? In the case of Penguins goalie Matt Murray, he was saving 27 of 29 shots in the Penguins' Game 7 win Thursday. The win is the latest in an already impressive playoff resume for the young netminder. Coming into Thursday's game, Murray sported a 17-7 career playoff record. He was a perfect 8-0 following a postseason loss.
Murray's only played five playoff games during the 2017 playoffs due to an injury. Healthy and having fresh legs, Murray will be extremely valuable for the Penguins in the next round, as the Stanley Cup Final looks to be a battle of great goalies between Pittsburgh's young star and Pekka Rinne (12-4, 1.70 goals against average and .941 save percentage this postseason) of the Nashville Predators.
2. Going out with a bang
Erik Karlsson was busy in Game 7. He logged 39:33 of ice time, including 2:52 on the Senators' power play, to go with three blocks and one hit. Karlsson also recorded primary assists on both of Ottawa's goals, giving him 16 helpers this postseason. The total set a new franchise record for most assists tallied during a single postseason.
Karlsson ended his postseason with 18 points, which put him at the top of the list for most points by an NHL defenseman. It's seven more than Ryan Ellis, who currently sits in second place, and eight ahead of Roman Josi, Justin Schultz and P.K. Subban.
3. Home sweet home, finally
Pittsburgh's win gave the Penguins their 10th Game 7 victory of all time. Oddly, it was Pittsburgh's first home victory in a Game 7 after losing in Game 6. Ottawa has still never won a Game 7, falling to 0-6 all time.