Penguins, Ducks Advance In NHL Playoffs


Published on May 11 2017 6:35 am
Last Updated on May 11 2017 6:35 am


Marc-Andre Fleury thanked his stick and flashed a smile so wide it could be seen through his mask.

This was vintage Fleury, and he has the Pittsburgh Penguins one step closer to another Stanley Cup.

Fleury stopped all 29 shots in a turn-back-the-clock performance to shut out the Washington Capitals 2-0 in Game 7 on Wednesday night, sending Pittsburgh to the Eastern Conference finals to face the Ottawa Senators.

This was the Fleury who backstopped the Penguins to the Cup in 2009 and was almost unbeatable early in the second-round series, and his return was all they needed to eliminate the Presidents' Trophy winners in a meeting of the NHL's top two teams.

"We're not in this position moving on if he doesn't play the way he did," said captain Sidney Crosby, who assisted on Bryan Rust's opening goal. "There were times where they had sustained pressure throughout games and he made some big saves that allowed us to stay in the game and allowed us to stay patient. He was huge for us all series long."

Fleury thought it was the Penguins' best team game of the playoffs, a theory that teammates and coach Mike Sullivan echoed. They were again outshot as they were in every game of the series, this time only 29-28, but Rust and Patric Hornqvist scored on Braden Holtby, and Fleury shut the door.

It was as complete a game as Pittsburgh has had through two rounds, even though it was without injured defenseman Trevor Daley and winger Carl Hagelin. Crosby looked like himself again in his third game back from a concussion, and the rest of the team followed.

"They just always find a way to respond the right way to any of the challenges or the adversities that this league throws at us, and they did it again tonight," Sullivan said. "I think these guys are at their best when the stakes are high. ... I thought that was the closest thing to the Penguins identity that we've seen in the playoffs so far."

It was far from Capitals hockey, which was on display in victories in Games 5 and 6. Chances came and went as Washington failed to get beyond the second round for the seventh time in as many chances in the Alex Ovechkin era.

"Without goals, you can't win the game," said Ovechkin, who played the seventh-most of any Capitals forward at 18:22 and was on the ice for each goal. "Plenty of chance to score. Just didn't do it. Made a couple mistakes, and it cost us."

Mistakes by Ovechkin and defensemen Matt Niskanen and Kevin Shattenkirk in clearing the puck out of the defensive zone led to Rust's goal 8:49 into the second and Hornqvist's 4:14 into the third. Ovechkin had one of the Capitals' best scoring chances of the game from the slot, and his shot went off the shaft of Fleury's stick.

It was so close Ovechkin raised his arms thinking he'd scored. That's when Fleury smiled and said something -- but not to a teammate.

"I talk to my stick, maybe," Fleury said. "I say thank you and say good job."

The Penguins thanked Fleury for yet another stellar performance. After allowing nine goals on 142 shots through the first four games, he allowed nine in Games 5 and 6 before bouncing back with this effort that sent the Capitals plunging into an offseason of change and Pittsburgh into its fifth East final in 10 years.

Playing only because No. 1 Matt Murray was injured prior to the playoff opener and with his future uncertain, Fleury was at his best in the biggest game of the season so far.

"I think that we're kidding ourselves if we don't give Flower an awful lot of credit," center Matt Cullen said. "He stole us more than one game this series and he kept us in a lot of others. We give him a lot of credit, and we're all so happy for him and proud of him. You can't ask for a better teammate than Flower with what he's gone through the last couple years and to step up the way he has."

Ducks 2, Oilers 1

Nick Ritchie is an NHL playoff newcomer. The 21-year-old power forward wasn't around for any of the Anaheim Ducks' agonizing Game 7 defeats over the past four seasons.

So when he found a patch of open ice during the third period Wednesday night, Ritchie could let fly with a beautiful shot, his wrists unencumbered by the weight of history.

After four years of agony and over a decade of fruitless Game 7s, the Ducks are finally the victors of a winner-take-all game -- and now they're halfway to another Stanley Cup.

Ritchie scored the tiebreaker, John Gibson made 23 saves and the Ducks ended their streak of five straight Game 7 losses with a 2-1 victory over the Edmonton Oilers, advancing to the Western Conference finals for the second time in three years.

Andrew Cogliano scored the tying goal midway through the second period for the Ducks, who had blown a 3-2 series lead and lost a Game 7 on home ice in four consecutive seasons.

The Ducks fell behind the Oilers just 3:31 into this seventh game, but the rest of the night largely belonged to Anaheim, which finally showed some veteran mettle in the playoffs' biggest crucible.

"We were down 1-0 for a little bit, and we didn't panic," Ritchie said. "We actually started to play better once they scored, and we got another one and then we kind of brought it home with good defensive hockey."

Ritchie beat Cam Talbot 3:21 into the third period, his second career playoff goal putting the Ducks ahead in a Game 7 for the first time in five years -- and ahead of the Oilers for the first time in nearly 193 minutes since late in Game 4.

The Ducks ended their ignominious streak after the tense final minutes of a strong defensive performance to back Gibson's best game of the postseason.

Anaheim will host the Nashville Predators in Game 1 of the conference finals Friday night.

"I wouldn't say it's a relief, but the fact we don't have to talk about it anymore, that's a good thing," captain Ryan Getzlaf said.

Getzlaf ended a monster series without a point on his 32nd birthday, but he contributed to a stellar defensive effort against NHL scoring champion Connor McDavid, who went scoreless in Game 7 and managed just five points in the series.

"It's going to take some time to get over it," said McDavid, the 20-year-old captain. "But I think there are a lot of positives we can take from this year. We won't have to answer that experience question anymore, which is nice. Come next season, we'll find ourselves in a similar spot and be able to look back on this and feel that disappointment and know what that's like."

Drake Caggiula got credit for Edmonton's goal, and Talbot made 28 saves. Edmonton's first playoff run since 2006 ended with four losses in five games, but the Oilers' young talent seems certain to make them a major factor in the West for years.

The time is now for the five-time Pacific Division champion Ducks on the 10-year anniversary of their 2007 championship.

They showed grit and guile while bouncing back from a blowout loss in Game 6 and yet another early deficit in a seventh game, silencing the echoes of past winner-take-all events. Anaheim hadn't won a Game 7 since 2006, when they were still the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.

"I'm happy, because I don't think we deserved to end our season tonight," Cogliano said. "It's a phenomenal feeling."

Edmonton took an early lead when young Anaheim defenseman Shea Theodore curiously tried to carry the puck out from behind the Ducks' net and right in front of Gibson. Caggiula skated up and challenged Theodore, who appeared to whip the puck accidentally backward and past Gibson.

The now-familiar hush of fear fell over Honda Center, and it grew when Anaheim took a penalty late in the first. But the Ducks killed the power play spanning the intermission and then gradually increased their push.

Cogliano finally cashed in for the Ducks when he slipped in front of Talbot and hacked home his first goal of the postseason. Cogliano ended a personal 13-game playoff goal drought for the speedy ex-Oilers forward who hasn't missed a game in his entire 10-year NHL career.

Wednesday, May 10 Scoreboard

Pittsburgh 2, Washington 2

Game 7 -- Penguins won 4-3

Anaheim 2, Edmonton 1

Game 7 -- Ducks won 4-3


Thursday, May 11 Schedule

No games scheduled

Friday, May 12 Schedule (Time Central)

Nashville at Anaheim, 8 p.m.

Game 1 -- Series tied 0-0

Saturday, May 13 Schedule (Time Central)

Ottawa at Pittsburgh, 6 p.m.

Game 1 -- Series tied 0-0

Sunday, May 14 Schedule (Time Central)

Nashville at Anaheim, 6:30 p.m.

Game 2 -- Series tied 0-0