PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins are one win away from a return trip to the Stanley Cup Final.
The defending champions pounced on the Ottawa Senators early in a 7-0 demolition in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals Sunday to take a 3-2 series lead. Sidney Crosby scored for a third consecutive game as part of a four-goal first period in which the Penguins twice chased goalie Craig Anderson.
Bryan Rust had a goal and an assist in his return from a concussion. Olli Maatta and Scott Wilson also beat Anderson in the first period. Matt Cullen scored his second of the playoffs, and Phil Kessel his seventh.
Matt Murray stopped 21 shots to win his second straight start following a six-week injury layoff. Game 6 is Tuesday night in Ottawa.
Anderson was pulled briefly after the Penguins went up 3-0 in the first and removed for good to start the second period. He stopped 10 of 14 shots he faced on his 36th birthday.
The Penguins appeared to hit their stride during a 3-2 victory in Ottawa on Friday night in Game 4, playing with the kind of speed and intensity that fueled their run to the franchise’s fourth Cup last June. Still, they stressed the importance of finding a way to keep it going in a series that saw the teams alternate wins and losses through the first four games.
The momentum Pittsburgh generated did more than carry over. It crushed the Senators completely.
Rust watched Games 3 and 4 while recovering from a concussion suffered during an open-ice collision with Dion Phaneuf in Game 2. Coach Mike Sullivan placed him on the third line with Nick Bonino and Carter Rowney, and the impact was immediate.
Rust set up Maatta’s opening goal by grabbing a loose puck in the Ottawa zone — a common occurrence during the Senators’ nightmarish first period — then dropping it to Maaatta. The defenseman who scored just once during the regular season zipped home his second in two games 8:14 into the first.
The Penguins were just getting started. Crosby redirected Trevor Daley’s shot past Anderson on the power play 12:03 into the first, and Rust did the same on a shot by Bonino with 3:56 left in the period.
Ottawa coach Guy Boucher briefly removed Anderson in favor of Mike Condon only to return Anderson about 90 seconds later. It didn’t help. The player perhaps most vital to the Senators’ first appearance in the conference finals in a decade let Wilson bank a shot from behind the goal line off him and into the net to make it 4-0.
Condon came on for Anderson in the second but it didn’t exactly provide a jolt. Cullen scored off a centering pass from Mark Streit to make it 5-0 just 1:54 into the second and the Penguins kept pouring it on.
The Senators head back home on the brink of elimination for the first time in their postseason. They head home a little dinged up too. Defenseman Erik Karlsson, playing with a pair of hairline fractures in his left heel, sat out the last 25 minutes after colliding with Wilson. Forward Derick Brassard and defenseman Cody Ceci also skipped the third period, leaving the final 20 minutes as little more than a glorified exhibition.
NOTES: The Senators went 0 for 4 on the power play and are 0 for 29 in their last 29 chances with the man advantage. The Penguins were 3 for 3. ... Crosby’s assist on Kessel’s goal gave him 100 career playoff assists. He’s the 22nd player in NHL history to reach that milestone. ... Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin played in his 141st postseason game, surpassing Jaromir Jagr for the most in franchise history. ... The Penguins scratched D Justin Schultz (upper body) and F Patric Hornqvist (upper body). F Conor Sheary was a healthy scratch. ... Rowney had three assists for Pittsburgh.