Friday, May 26, 2017
Kevin Allen , USA TODAY Sports
May 26, 2017
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, Chris Kunitz #14, Sidney Crosby #87 and Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins pose with the Prince of Wales Trophy after winning Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Final against the Ottawa Senators during the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at PPG PAINTS Arena on May 25, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Ottawa Senators with a score of 3 to 2. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH — Chris Kunitz is 37. He will be an unrestricted free agent in July. He hadn’t scored a goal in 34 games, counting playoff and regular-season games. He has worn a Pittsburgh Penguins jersey for nine seasons and can’t be sure he will be here for a 10th.
Maybe that made him the perfect person to score the double-overtime goal in the 3-2 Game 7 win against the Ottawa Senators, which gives the Penguins a chance to become the first team in 19 years to win back-to-back championships.
Nothing has ever come easy for hard-working Kunitz during his career, and nothing has come easy for the Penguins in this postseason.
“It's been a hard — it's been a really hard playoffs,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “I give this group of players so much credit. They find ways to win, and we're not perfect on some nights by any stretch. But this group of players has a will to win as a group more so than any other group I've been around.”
The Penguins have endured numerous injuries, periods of inconsistency and two Game 7s. The march of the Penguins hasn’t been as smooth as last year’s journey to the championship. But in some ways, it’s been more impressive. The Penguins continue to anoint new heroes, explore different paths to success.
“It’s a good feeling to compete the way we did,” said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who set up Kunitz for the winning goal.
The Senators were the best defensive team and Craig Anderson was the sharpest goalie the Penguins faced in these playoffs. The Penguins had 42 shots in Game 7 and needed every one of them to get rid of the pesky Senators.
It wasn’t a laser shot that dispatched the Senators.
“The puck fluttered off my stick,” Kunitz said. “I don't know if it touched him or just kept going right by. Looked like there was good screen on the goalie, looked like he fell down. Just found its way into the net. Sometimes you get lucky when you put one in the net.”
Kunitz has scored as many as 35 goals in a season, but he had nine this season.
"He has that knack for big games,” Crosby said. “He does so many little things. Probably a lot of things go unnoticed, but I don’t think his two goals will go unnoticed.”
Kunitz had two goals, six shots, four hits and three blocks, none bigger than the block he made in the second overtime.
“There was a breakdown, and Mark Stone ended up with the puck right in the slot, one of the most dangerous shooters, walking right down the pipe, and (Kunitz) had an unbelievable block,” Pittsburgh defenseman Ian Cole said. “Those are the little things that our team gets excited about.”
The Penguins needed Kunitz and mental toughness to survive this game. They led 1-0 on Kunitz’ first goal only to have the Senators tie it 20 seconds later. They led 2-1 on a Justin Schultz power-play goal only have Ryan Dzingel tie it with 5:19 left in regulation.
“Our defense corps is a resilient bunch,” Sullivan said. “They get knocked down, and they get up, and they get back in the fight. I think that's what I love about them.”
They played one of their best games of the postseason, buying time until Kunitz could produce his heroics.
Kunitz shared the credit. He said he found open ice because the Ottawa defense was drawn to Crosby.
“When he drives it deep, everyone gets scared,” Kunitz said. “Sid's got great vision and put it right there. Just found a way to put it on net and got lucky.
He said it didn’t matter who scored the goal “because we all know we are going to have to pull our weight at some point.”
That could be the Penguins’ motto as they attempt to be the first team in almost two decades to successfully defend a championship.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Pittsburgh defenseman Olli Maatta said.
No one appreciates the opportunity more than Kunitz
“(You) never know if you're going to get another chance to come this far,” Kunitz said. “You never know if you're going to play on this ice again with this team. So you've got to make sure you make that last as long as you can. It's not a lot of fun thinking about the future when you want to be .here and you want to be playing with your teammates. Sometimes it comes down to luck.”
BY BRUCE GARRIOCH,
The pain was evident by the looks on their faces in a quiet dressing room.
The Senators were unable to win the first Game 7 in franchise history as Chris Kunitz scored his second of the game in double overtime to give the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins a 3-2 win and the Prince of Wales Trophy with a 4-3 series victory in the Eastern Conference final.
Instead of hosting Game 1 of the Cup final Monday night at home, the Senators will head to the Canadian Tire Centre on the weekend to pack their bags after the most successful season in recent history that included playoff wins over the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers before being halted by the Penguins.
“It’s heartbreaking because you know the nature of the business side of things and you know the group will never be the same,” said Ottawa winger Bobby Ryan. “It’s heartbreaking. You realize we’ve got two days together here and then we’re gone for the summer.
“We didn’t want it to end but they came up one shot better.”
This was a great game in every way, shape and form. You really had to wonder if it was ever going to end as both goalies came up big. Kunitz beat Craig Anderson high to send the crowd into hysterics at 5:09 of the second overtime.
“It just found its way to the net. I just got lucky to put one in,” said Kunitz.
While Ryan Dzingel and Mark Stone were able to beat Penguins’ goalie Matt Murray in regulation, only Justin Schultz and Kunitz were able to beat Anderson. Both goalies were brilliant and had to come up with big stops as they two teams pushed hard for the win.
“The guys in here, right from the day I left the team and came back, you couldn’t ask for a better group of teammates,” said Anderson.
The Senators refused to back down. After Schultz gave the Penguins a 2-1 lead with only 8:16 left in the third on the power play, Dzingel tied it up when he picked up a rebound off the post and beat Murray at 14:41 to tie it up. Dzingel did a great job getting his stick on the puck for his second of the playoffs.
Ottawa has had to battle the odds all year. They lost winger Clarke MacArthur for most of the season to a concussion in camp while Anderson took a two-month personal leave to be with his wife Nicholle while she under treatment for a rare form of cancer. Always, they have found a way to persevere.
“It’s really tough,” said coach Guy Boucher. “I think it’s beyond pride to be honest with you. It’s a lot more beyond hockey this year. I wish I could have done something more to help them.”
Through 40 minutes, the Penguins and Senators went toe-to-toe and the score was tied 1-1 as Ottawa was outshot 15-12. The Senators had their second power play of the game late in the period but they couldn’t get anything going. The two teams exchanged goals during a flurry midway through the second.
Only 20 seconds after Kunitz opened the scoring for the Penguins, the Senators answered back when Stone scored his fifth of the playoffs to tie it up. He beat Murray on the glove side from the circle and though many felt the Penguins should challenge for offside replays confirmed that it wasn’t.
Through 20 minutes, the Senators and Penguins played to a scoreless tie. Pittsburgh was ahead on the shot clock 6-5. Neither team had much in the way of great chances but Murray and Anderson made the stops when needed. The Senators were able to look at this as a successful road period because Pittsburgh didn’t dominate.
“At the end of the day we lost to a better team,” said captain Erik Karlsson. “We did everything in our power and it could have gone either way. They did it for a little bit longer than we did and a little bit better. We played the best team in the league and we gave them a good match.
“We’re very disappointed in the loss and getting so close and it’s going to be an experience we’re going to have learn from. We’re going to have to keep improving.”
Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby heaped praise on the Senators especially the play of Anderson who gave his team a chance to win.
“We thought we had some great chances but Anderson was incredible. He’s been like that the past few games,” said Crosby. “(Ottawa) was really difficult to play against. They didn’t give us much.”