Chris Kunitz reached down deep and played the game of his life when the stakes were high.
The veteran forward scored two goals and an assist as the Pittsburgh Penguins FINALLY vanquished the Ottawa Senators in a Game 7 classic, 3-2.
Kunitz would take a feed from Sidney Crosby in the high slot and send a slapper that knuckled in high over Anderson to send the bench and the crowd into a frenzy. The goal was very similar in appearance to the play earlier in the season when Crosby registered point 1,000.
The two goals were the first of the post season for Kunitz, and the first of any kind since Rip Van Winkle was awake.
But instead of a numbered milestone, this time it sends the franchise to their sixth appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals starting on Monday at home against the Nashville Predators at 8 PM from PPG Paints Arena. The Penguins will look to become the first team to win back to back Cups since the Red Wings did it back in 98.
Craig Anderson, as he was for most of this series, was brilliant in net for Ottawa. He finished the night with 39 saves. If you could look at one guy on the Sens roster to root for, it is most assuredly him. Godspeed to he and his wife this offseason.
After a first period that saw the Penguins kill off a Sens power play and out shoot the Sens just 6-5 in a feeling out process. Kunitz would get the game’s opening marker when he received a pass from Conor Sheary and finished it at the side of Anderson to get the all important first goal at 9:55 of the period.
After being a healthy scratch for a couple of games, Sheary was trusted in Game 7 and he did not disappoint. Getting an assist and being creative and pest-like all night. If he has indeed returned to form, this will be a nice development for the Cup Final series.
But, before you could sit down, however, Ottawa tied it up as Erik Karlsson hit Mark Stone on a quick rush and his shot silenced the crowd and all of their momentum exactly 20 seconds later. Matt Murray threw his head back in disgust as it appeared to be a shot he wanted to have back.
The Pens would have to kill off another penalty as Olli Maatta went for a high stick. The PK unit was up to the task however and the second period ended 1-1.
Maatta, for all of his redemption talk and play this Spring, had a very rough game. Many mistakes and turnovers in his own end. With a few of them leading to quality zone time and chances for the Sens.
In the third, Pittsburgh would finally get a crack with a power play of their own when Dion Phaneuf would march to the box for interference at 11:19. It would take all of :25 seconds for the Pens to take advantage.
Justin Schultz, returning to the lineup after several games out with what has been whispered to be cracked/broken ribs, would wrist a shot through traffic and past Anderson on the far side. A great screen in front by Kunitz and Anderson never saw it, the lead again went back to the home side with 8:16 to play at 2-1.
But, damn this Sens team just never quit….three minutes later Ryan Dzingel would get the equalizer as he cleaned up an Erik Karlsson shot that hit the post and stayed in the paint. With Brian Dumoulin being a spectator on the play, Dzingel had a slam dunk behind Murray with around five minutes to play in regulation.
So this Sens team had twice fallen behind in Game 7, on the road, to the defending champs and responded quickly. You had David Volek in 1993 thoughts in your head right about now.
Regulation would end and we were off to extra hockey in Game 7 for a trip to the Finals…..only way it gets more taxing is if it was actually Game 7 OF the Finals.
In the first overtime, there was no penalties and no scoring. The crowd was incensed when this happened:
But only because arena replays showed the over head view in which it appeared the puck did go in. A couple people threw stuff on the ice, and the fans kept the booing up and into the intermission.
Phil Kessel had a few chances to end the game, and there were 1,001 icing calls in the first OT as well
Being a hockey fan is healthy in absolutely no way.
— Josh Yohe (@JoshYohe_PGH) May 26, 2017
So as the clock started to slowly burn toward midnight, you wondered if Cinderella was gonna strike and what would have been agonizing fashion.
5:09 into the second overtime we finally had our answer
Oh… And that double OT goal was scored by CHRIS KUNITZ! With assists to Sidney Crosby and Justin Schultz. pic.twitter.com/dkkgEdL926
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) May 26, 2017
Kunitz became the oldest player in league history to score a game winning goal in double overtime. He is also the ninth player in franchise history to score a series clinching goal in overtime.
Matt Murray would finish with 27 saves, he has been solid since coming in for Marc Andre Fleury. Between the Murray starts and putting Sheary back into the line up, Mike Sullivan is pushing all of the right buttons at the right time of the year.
A couple of days for rest are in order as the finals will get going in full swing on Memorial Day-night. A full preview will be on the site sometime Monday morning.
As for now, rest, recharge, enjoy the victory for a minute or two……
And let’s get ready to go get Cup number five…..bring on Nashville.
Thanks for reading!
And lookin' for more… pic.twitter.com/6cAMXbFsUP
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) May 26, 2017