May 25, 2013 in Sports

Neal’s hat trick sends Penguins to East finals

Will Graves Associated Press
 

Neal
(Full-size photo)

PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Penguins expected desperation.

Instead, the listless Ottawa Senators offered little more than resignation.

Swarming the Senators from the opening faceoff, Pittsburgh roared to a 6-2 victory Friday night in Game 5 of the Eastern conference semifinals to take the best-of-seven series 4-1.

James Neal picked up his first postseason hat trick as the Penguins capped a five-game onslaught against one of the NHL’s best defensive teams to stroll into the conference finals. Pittsburgh scored 22 goals in the series while ending Ottawa’s season for the third time in five years.

“We gave them the respect they deserved and we came out and I think we surprised ourselves,” Neal said. “We played with a lot of speed and got it behind them and got to the net.”

And into the net.

Kris Letang, Evgeni Malkin and Brenden Morrow also scored, and Tomas Vokoun made 29 saves to help give top-seeded Pittsburgh a few days of rest before facing Boston or the New York Rangers in the conference finals.

The Penguins will take the time off, but considering the way they’re rolling at the moment they wouldn’t mind if the next round started sooner rather than later.

“We got to our game a lot,” Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby said. “The depth we showed, different guys chipping in. The whole way through we didn’t have many lulls where we lost momentum at any point.”

“I hope (the Penguins) don’t bill us for the clinic,” Ottawa coach Paul MacLean said. “But they really showed the step you have to take to continue to play in the Stanley Cup playoffs.”

The Senators put up little resistance as Pittsburgh moved on to the conference finals for the first time since 2009, when it won its third Stanley Cup.

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