For the second consecutive series, the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins will head into a seventh game during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Just like their previous series against the Washington Capitals, the Penguins blew an opportunity to close out the series, and they are now 2-4 in potential series-clinching games this postseason. Pittsburgh has shown flashes of dominance during this series including a 7-0 win in Game 5 of this series, but Ottawa's stingy defense and goaltending has shut down the dynamic Pittsburgh Penguin offense throughout most of this series. Without counting their outburst of goals in Game 5 victory, the Penguins have scored just seven goals in five games against the Senators. If the Penguins have any hopes of returning to the Stanley Cup Finals, Pittsburgh must find the offense that helped them prevail in Game 5 of this series.
Both teams have statistics that could point to the other team winning this Game 7, but we will have to take them with a grain of salt. The Ottawa Senators are 0-5 in Game 7s, tied with the Arizona Coyotes for the worst Game 7 record in pro sports. The Pittsburgh Penguins, on the other hand, are 0-7 in Game 7 at home after losing Game 6 on the road. With both statistics canceling each other out, looking at how the teams have played over the last several games may give a better indication of what to expect tonight. After getting off to a poor start in shots on goal this postseason, the Pittsburgh Penguins have now outshot the Senators 117-81. Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote about the Penguins' advantages heading into Game 7 and quoted head coach Mike Sullivan on his team's play during this series.
"When you look at the offensive-zone time, the possession time, the shots we had, the traffic in front and the amount of scoring chances we generated, it's hard to not like a lot of that. The puck didn't go in the net for us Tuesday, but I believe, if we stay the course, it will."
Another key to the final game of this series is the experience the Penguins bring to this Game 7, unlike the Ottawa Senators, who haven't played in a Game 7 since 2012. The Penguins have played in two Game 7s over the span of one year, including a victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Finals last year. The Penguins have been in this situation before and know what it takes to win one of these games.
Another thing the Penguins can hang their hat on heading into tonight's game is their play on special teams. Pittsburgh has gone an impressive 5-17 on the power play this series while the Senators finally got over their 0-29 power play slump during Game 6. Despite a few struggles as of late, the Penguins must be confident on special teams moving forward to have any shot at advancing past Ottawa.
Dictating the pace of the game has also been one of the major components in determining who wins in this series. When Pittsburgh has dominated puck possession and been able to penetrate the defense of Ottawa, the Penguin's offense has shown how easy it is to score on their defensemen. However, when Ottawa has been able to slow the game down and force the Penguins to make bad turnovers, they have come out on top. Kevin Allen of USA Today wrote about the factors heading into tonight's matchup and quoted Pittsburgh veteran Matt Cullen on his thoughts on the game.
"These are the games you're playing in the backyard when you're a kid growing up. As players, this is what it's all about. It's a different level of intensity. It's a different level of excitement."Whichever team comes out on top in this series will make for an interesting storyline heading into the Stanley Cup Finals against the Nashville Predators.
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