It’s crunch time in the Eastern Conference Final, as the Ottawa Senators and Pittsburgh Penguins will duke it out in Game 7 at PPG Paints Arena to determine which team will face the Nashville Predators in the Stanley Cup Final.
For the Penguins, a win on Wednesday means the opportunity to defend their championship. For the Senators, victory means reaching the Cup Final for the first time in a decade — and proving that their so-called Cinderella run in the playoffs is more than just a fairy tale.
Here’s what to watch for.
Game 7: 8 p.m. ET on CBC
Senators taking a steady approach
On the eve of Game 7, Senators coach Guy Boucher called his team’s next game “a great opportunity,” but warned that the key will be to avoid getting “lost in the emotion” of it all.
“We play well when we play smart, when we stick to our identity, when we don’t let our emotions take over,” Boucher said. “And that’s what we have to watch out for.”
The Senators have never won a Game 7, but Ottawa is benefiting from the presence of some veteran players who’ve faced those do-or-die situations before, and who’ve made it to the Cup Final with other teams.
As Boucher noted, players such as Viktor Stalberg, Chris Kelly and even the injured Alex Burrows have offered the team some much-needed perspective on what they can expect on Wednesday night.
“I think the players on our team that have benefited from being in those moments definitely are important,” he said. “The other day in the room, we had Burrows talk, even if he’s injured. And we had Kelly talk. Guys who’ve lived Game 7s, guys who have been to the Stanley Cup Finals.”
While Ottawa is a definite underdog to beat the Penguins on the road in Game 7, the team seemed done for after a brutal 7–0 loss in Game 5. The Senators bounced back to stay alive, and now, Boucher said, the plan is to stick to a familiar approach — trying to frustrate the Penguins with their defence rather than playing head-to-head versus a team Boucher admitted is the best there is.
As forward Clarke MacArthur said this week, “I think we’ve got to go there and bore them out of the building.”
If the Senators are to pull out a win, they’ll likely need to frustrate Sidney Crosby, who has a knack for delivering in big moments.
Teammate Matt Cullen said this week that Crosby “seems to rise up in these occasions, and we’ve seen it. His play elevates when the stakes are highest.”
Crosby, who expressed confidence in his team’s chances heading into Game 7 — he said his team “probably deserved better” in Game 6 — is 4-2 with two goals and two assists in six career Game 7s.
The Penguins could also benefit from the addition of two key players who may return to action on Thursday night: defenceman Justin Schultz and winger Patric Hornqvist. Both have been out with upper-body injuries, but coach Mike Sullivan said it was “reasonable” to expect that either could be available.
Schultz has picked up two goals and six assists in 14 post-season games this year, while Hornqvist has four goals and three assists in 14 playoff games.
Goalie under pressure
After a rough outing in Game 5 that saw him pulled twice, Senators goaltender Craig Anderson bounced back in Game 6, making 45 saves in his team’s 2–1 win. Teammate Marc Methot summed up the outing thusly: “He was a monster for us.”
The Senators were outshot 46–30 in Game 6, and while the team will try to smother Pittsburgh’s offence, Anderson will probably need to match his last performance if the Senators have a shot of winning. He may even need to best it.
That’s a lot of pressure to fall on Anderson’s shoulders, but the 36-year-old said he’s ready to face a barrage of shots if need be.
“Whatever it takes,” he said. “I think you’ve got to be prepared for anything, stay in the moment as best you can. When you’re in the moment, you’re just worrying about the next shift. I don’t think you worry too much about how many shots.”