Pittsburgh, PA – James Neal notched a hat trick and an assist as the Pittsburgh Penguins advanced past the Ottawa Senators with a 6-2 win in Game 5 of this Eastern Conference semifinal series.
The Penguins are now back in the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 2009, when they swept the Carolina Hurricanes on the way to their third Stanley Cup title in franchise history.
Tomas Vokoun, who has been the starter for Pittsburgh since taking over for Marc-Andre Fleury prior to Game 5 of the opening round series against the Islanders, stopped 29 shots to improve to 6-1 in this postseason.
"It's been a lot of fun and we're playing great as a team," said Vokoun. "Players are playing for the team and playing great defense. We played our game plan and we're able to force our plan on them."
Kris Letang had a goal and two assists while Evgeni Malkin gave a goal and an assist for the Penguins, who will face the winner of the New York Rangers/Boston Bruins series in the conference finals.
"Once we started getting the puck deep and playing our way we got rewarded," said Letang. "We got some big goals and took advantage of our chance to put them away."
Kyle Turris and Milan Michalek each scored for the Senators, who had dispatched the Montreal Canadiens in the opening round.
Craig Anderson, who was tagged for six goals on 38 shots in a 7-3 loss in Game 4, gave up all six goals on 33 shots in the defeat.
"They really had us on our heels every game in this series," said Ottawa head coach Paul MacLean. "That's a credit to that team and that organization and it's a great learning experience for our team. After having success against Montreal, I think we learned a lesson on what it takes to win in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and we're good at learning."
The Penguins took the lead 6:25 into the game on Brenden Morrow's second of the playoffs. Matt Cooke made a move to get clear of the defender along the right boards and fired the puck over to the left side for Mark Eaton, who sent it to the front where the puck went off the stick and right skate of Morrow for a 1-0 lead.
Ottawa got a chance to tie the game later in the first when Sidney Crosby was called for hooking at 13:41, but the team was unable to get through and Vokoun finished the frame with 10 saves.
An interference call on Jean-Gabriel Pageau after he cross-checked Craig Adams gave the Pens a power play at 5:54 of the second period.
Letang was able to get the puck on net from the left side as he tried to bank it in off of Anderson. The disc then sat out front and Neal was able to jam it in with several bodies in front at 7:38 for a 2-0 advantage.
Just over five minutes later, the Pens made it a 3-0 game during 4-on-4 action as Tyler Kennedy gained the zone through the middle and dished it over to the left for Letang, who cut to the front before lasering a wrister past the glove of Anderson for his third of the playoffs.
Ottawa was handed a power play at 14:17 of the second when Doug Murray was called for delay of game after flipping the puck over the glass. Jason Spezza had the puck behind the net and flung a backhand pass to the front where Michalek switched to the backhand and stuffed it in to cut the score to 3-1 with 3:42 left in the frame.
Pittsburgh, though, got the goal back as Malkin was sprung on a breakaway by Neal and he buried the puck in the left side for his fourth of the postseason with 29.2 seconds left for a 4-1 lead going into the third.
Neal scored his second of the game with 8:53 to play when he picked off a Sergei Gonchar pass down low and quickly stuffed it in for a 5-1 advantage.
Turris' goal off a snap-shot from the right side came with 6:28 to go, but Neal capped the hat trick when he skated in down the left side and dragged the puck back before firing it home for his sixth of the playoffs with 2:39 left.
Pittsburgh has won three of the four playoff series against Ottawa ... Malkin and Letang each have 16 points in the playoffs, one point back of Boston's David Krejci for the lead ... Ottawa hasn't made it past the semifinals since reaching the Stanley Cup finals in 2007 ... Neal's hat trick was his first ever in the playoffs, and the 13th in Pittsburgh's postseason history ... Pittsburgh went 1-for-4 on the power play while Ottawa was 0-for-5.