Here we are again. Two and a half weeks after a Game 7 win against the Washington Capitals, the Penguins find themselves in another Game 7 against the Ottawa Senators for a chance to go to the Stanley Cup Final and face the Nashville Predators. This series has a little different feel to it than the last as a Penguins fan. In the last series, the Capitals were the much better team and the Penguins squeaked by with a great effort in the 3rd period of Game 7. As for this series, it seems that the Penguins have been the better team but find themselves, again, in a winner-take-all situation.
The big storyline from earlier in the series was the switch between the goal pipes for the Penguins. After a Game 3 blowout loss, which Marc-Andre Fleury allowed four goals in the first period, coach Mike Sullivan decided to go with Matt Murray in Game 4. Murray has been better than Fleury over the last two seasons and is the goalie of the future for the Penguins so this might not come at a surprise. Even though Marc-Andre was playing out of his mind against the Capitals and having a good playoff run, I believe that this move gave the Penguins a greater chance of advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Injuries have also played a role in this series for both teams. The Penguins have been tested with the depth of their blue-line, and some forwards, while the Senators have seen Erik Karlsson “slow down” with a nagging injury that he has been dealing with all playoffs. Patrick Hornqvist and Justin Schultz statuses for Game 7 are still uncertain at the time of this being written.
Let’s start by looking back at what has happened through the first six games of this series. As I did in my last piece, I will be using data from Moneypuck and Corsica. This series has seen two pretty evenly played games, Games 1 and 4, two blowouts, Games 3 and 5, and two games that were dominated by the Penguins but they only found a win in one of them, Games 2 and 6. Here is a breakdown of each game by xG and CF according to Moneypuck and Corsica.
Games 3 and 4, the blowouts, saw each team grab a 4-0 lead in the first period so the metrics in these games can be a little deceiving. Looking at the most even games, Games 1 and 4, we saw the winner of the xGF% battle at 50.9% and 51.9% with each team earning a win. Both the Senators and the Penguins won a blowout game and also a 50/50 game. The series is 2-2. The next two games are where it gets a little tricky. In Game 2, the Penguins had a xGF% of 72.8%/68.7% and came away with a 1-0 win. Phil Kessel ripped a shot past Craig Anderson with under 7 minutes to go in the 3rd period to give the Penguins the win and to even up the series at 1-1. Based on the xGF% numbers, you would expect the Penguins to win by more than 1-0 but a win is a win. Game 6 turned out to be a little different. In Game 6, the Penguins had a xGF% of 68.0%/71.8% and came away with a 2-1 loss. Craig Anderson saved 45 of 46 Penguins shots and Mike Hoffman scored on a rocket in the opening minutes of the 3rd period to give the Senators the win and and force a Game 7 in Pittsburgh. Based on xGF%, you would have expected the Penguins to win both Games 2 and 6, but only came away with one win. Instead of them winning the series in six games, they have to play a Game 7. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, sometimes the goalie stands on his head and steals a game. That is exactly what happened on Tuesday night.
As for what the Penguins need to do, I’m gonna revert back to what I used on the Capitals last round, don’t change a thing (hopefully the result of this advice is different this time). The Penguins have yet to be dominated in a game this series and have dominated half of the games so far. The difference of how a Penguins fan feels before this Game 7 should be a lot better than the last. The Penguins are the better team, they’ve played better throughout the series, and are heading back to home ice. Those three things could not be said heading into Washington for Game 7 last round.
The Senators find themselves in a much similar situation as the Penguins did last round. The first six games they have found themselves being out played but they found a way to win three of them. Erik Karlsson will be a key in this game, as always in a Senators game, but his health is uncertain. The Senators will need him to be feeling well to help with sustaining zone time and getting shots to the net. If he isn’t playing near the top of his game, Craig Anderson will need to steal another game for Ottawa to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
My prediction for the game? Penguins win 2-1 and advance to their second Stanley Cup Final in as many years to face the Nashville Predators. Look, the Pens are the better team tonight even with a healthy Karlsson. The Penguins have some depth issues but they have seem to overcome that problem in the recent games. The Penguins have been the better team over the first six games of this series and I believe they will continue that success and be the better team tonight. However, as we have seen many times before, the results of the first six games gives us an idea of how the seventh game might be played but is not always what happens on the ice. Anything can happen in one game, especially in hockey.
Thanks for reading, enjoy the game. Give me a follow on Twitter at @amock419 for more.