The Penguins secured the 4-3 on Tuesday after blowing a three-goal lead and it was Nick Bonino who retired the series 6:32 into the extra frame.
Pittsburgh’s last appearance in the Eastern Conference Final was in 2013, when they were eliminated by the Boston Bruins in a disappointing sweep.
The Capitals/Penguins series was billed as the great meeting between Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, but it’s hard to argue there was any such explosion of talents. Crosby had a quiet series, to say the least, and he registered just two assists. Ovechkin was more active on the scoreboard, with seven points including two goals.
But it was the emergence of other stars that solidified the series win for Pittsburgh. Phil Kessel had two goals in Game Six, bringing his totals to a dozen points in 11 playoff games so far. And Carl Hagelin had a three-point night on Tuesday, plus he cracked eight shots on goal and reached eight points in 11 playoff games.
Goalie Matt Murray has also been a story for the Penguins, with his play in his first-ever post-season holding the team in it. The 21-year-old from Thunder Bay faced the Capitals’ onslaught and came out a winner, with a 2.05 goals against average and a .935 save percentage in the playoffs thus far.
The Capitals once again face the disappointment of a playoff exit and they haven’t advanced past the second round since 1998. For all the individual heroics of Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie, Washington just couldn’t pull together a team game when it counted. The Capitals have met the Penguins nine times in the post-season. They’ve defeated their rivals once.
And by some accounts, the Penguins were lethargic in places and didn’t exactly deserve the win.
Their power play, for instance, was one for 16 in the series ahead of Tuesday night. They secured some action on the man-advantage and went two for three in the deciding game, but it’s hard to argue that special teams really changed the series for Pittsburgh.
But when the rubber hit the road, the Penguins were able to overcome gaffes and they did what they always seem to do in these situations: they survived. They received goals from depth players and they rode a hot hand in an unproven goalie. They were patient and resilient. They put in the work when it counted. And in the end, the Capitals just couldn’t keep up.