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Emperor Penguins

Crosby and Co. crush Sens, advance to East final

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Pittsburgh Penguins' James Neal (centre) celebrates his hat trick goal with teammates Evgeni Malkin (left) and Jarome Iginla during the third period.

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Pittsburgh Penguins' James Neal (centre) celebrates his hat trick goal with teammates Evgeni Malkin (left) and Jarome Iginla during the third period.

PITTSBURGH -- Ottawa offered no answer for the surging Penguins. The way Pittsburgh is playing now, with offence up and down a lineup that isn't being dominated by stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Senators couldn't help but wonder if any team does.

James Neal scored a hat trick as the Penguins advanced to the Eastern Conference final for the third time in six seasons by closing out the Senators 6-2 in Game 5 on Friday night.

Just as Ottawa's franchise icon Daniel Alfredsson foresaw following a 7-3 Penguins rout in Game 4, the Senators weren't good enough to rally from a 3-1 deficit for the first time in six attempts in franchise history. After winning Game 3 on home ice with a comeback that started in the final minute of regulation, they were outscored 13-5 in two runaway Penguins victories.

"They were better than us in each and every game and I was just trying to put the pressure on them," said Alfredsson, who acknowledged after Pittsburgh's 7-3 win in Game 4 it would be extremely difficult for the Senators to rally. "I still believe that we could do it if we win one game. I think that comment helps us, and that's where it came from."

The 40-year-old Alfredsson, an Ottawa fixture since 1995, said he will decide at some point in the off-season whether he will return for a 17th NHL season.

"It's really tough with four young kids at home," Alfredsson said. "That's kind of where I struggle personally. I'll talk to (the Senators) and see what they think. I think I still can play. I really enjoyed the playoffs and had a lot of fun with it. I'll take a little bit of time, I don't want to make a quick decision."

Coach Paul MacLean said of Alfredsson and defenceman Sergei Gonchar: "My expectations are they will come back until they tell me."

After beating Montreal in the opening round following an injury-filled season in which they surprisingly made the playoffs, the Senators were good enough to win only once in a series decided by Pittsburgh's offensive execution and a scoring depth that ranges far beyond Crosby and Malkin. Brenden Morrow, Kris Letang and Malkin each added singles for the Penguins on Friday, while Neal's goals gave him five in the final two games of the series.

"We got to our game a lot. The depth we had showed," Crosby said. "Different guys chipping in, the whole way through we didn't have many lulls where we lost momentum at any point."

The Penguins were aided by the solid goaltending of Tomas Vokoun, who made 29 saves and doesn't appear willing to give back his job to former Stanley Cup winner Marc-Andre Fleury any time soon.

Pittsburgh, which led the conference during the regular season, will play either the Boston Bruins or New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference finals. Boston leads 3-1 in a series that resumes tonight.

"They have a good team and they're really pushing for it," Senators defenceman Erik Karlsson said. "Right now, they're playing the way they want to. The first two games (in Pittsburgh) we weren't prepared for what they were bringing. They played really well and we definitely didn't play the way wanted to. They came out and started stronger the last game (Game 4) and this game as well."

For the Senators, who generated goals by only Milan Michalek and Kyle Turris, it was yet another disappointing conclusion to a season. They have failed to advance past the conference semifinals since reaching the Stanley Cup final in 2007.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 25, 2013 C1

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