Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Chris Kunitz (14) (L) joins Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) (center) and Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin (71) as they pose with the Prince of Wales Trophy after the 3-2 double overtime victory against the Ottawa Senators of game seven to win the Eastern Conference Finals of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh on May 25, 2017. File photo by Archie Carpenter/UPI | License Photo
PITTSBURGH -- Left winger Chris Kunitz is 37 now and doesn't play on the Pittsburgh Penguins' top line all that often anymore after years of serving as one of star center Sidney Crosby's regular linemates.
But there they were, on the ice together Thursday as midnight approached. Crosby found his old buddy for a one-timer, and Kunitz beat Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson for his second goal of the game at 5:09 of the second overtime to give Pittsburgh a 3-2 victory over the Senators in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final.
The win lifted the Penguins into the Stanley Cup Final for the fourth time in 10 years. That series begins Monday when the Western Conference champion Nashville Predators visit. Pittsburgh will try to become the first repeat titlist since the Detroit Red Wings won back-to-back Cups in 1997 and '98.
Getting back to this point is special for Kunitz, who is chasing his fourth Cup, his third with Crosby and the Penguins.
"For sure, never knowing if you're going to get another chance to come this far or if you're going to get a chance to play on this ice again with this team," Kunitz said.
That familiar chemistry with Crosby was a big part of the winning goal. The Senators' focus on Crosby allowed Kunitz to set up unguarded.
"(Winger Conor Sheary) did a really good job of bringing it up the wall and walking the blue (line)," Kunitz said. "I think Sid came right off the bench. When he drives it deep, everyone (on the opposing team) gets scared and you can find that soft area. Obviously, Sid's got great vision. He put it right there."
It was just as comfortable for Crosby.
"I've definitely seen that one from him before," Crosby said. "With the way he was holding the stick you could tell he wanted it bad. I just tried to lay it there for him."
Ottawa fell short of making the Cup final for the first time since 2007 despite forcing a Game 7 with a 2-1 win in Game 6.
"They gave it their all. They put their souls into it," Senators coach Guy Boucher said of his players.
Pittsburgh goaltender Matt Murray, playing on his 23rd birthday, stopped 27 of 29 Senators shots.
Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson, who stopped 45 of 46 shots in Game 6, made 39 saves Thursday.
"Shock, I think at the moment," Anderson said of the emotion after the loss. "It's surreal. It doesn't feel like it's actually happening, but it is.
"We played our hearts out and gave everything we have and we've got nothing to be ashamed of and we laid it out there and we put it on the line and guys were dog tired out there and battling and it just wasn't in the cards for us."
The game was nearly halfway through regulation before the Penguins scored the first goal off a two-on-one against Ottawa defenseman Erik Karlsson. Kunitz one-timed a pass from Sheary in tight to make it 1-0 at 9:55 of the second period. It was Kunitz's first goal in his past 22 playoff games.
Just 20 seconds later, Mark Stone tied it for the Senators, taking a short pass ahead from Karlsson, and from the lower part of the right circle, lifting the puck over Murray's glove.
"Scoring and then them answering right back -- for us to get right back to our game, keep plowing away, keep creating in the offensive zone and keep playing good defensively shows how mentally tough this hockey team is," Pittsburgh defenseman Ian Cole said.
Justin Schultz scored on a wrist shot from the center point at 11:44 of the third on Pittsburgh's only power play of the game. The goal, through a Kunitz screen, gave the Penguins a 2-1 lead.
At 14:41 of the third, Ryan Dzingel lifted the Senators into a 2-2 tie when he scored on a rebound of a Karlsson shot.
That was it until Crosby and Kunitz found their old magic.
Crosby ranked the win among the best he has been a part of.
"It's up there," he said. "I mean, I think it's a nerve-wracking game. We know that with the way they play, too, it felt like you could feel comfortable with your game, you could generate chances, but they only need one going back the other way to score. Playing against a team like that, you just have to stay with it and stay poised, and I thought we did a great job at that."
NOTES: Pittsburgh D Justin Schultz (shoulder) returned but RW Patric Hornqvist (upper body) did not. Both took the pregame warmup and were considered game-time decisions. ... Penguins LW Conor Sheary was back after being a healthy scratch for two consecutive games, replacing RW Josh Archibald. ... Ottawa C Colin White, who made his NHL postseason debut in Game 6, was scratched in favor of C Chris Kelly.