The Ottawa Senators showed a killer instinct absent in past playoff series, as they easily eliminated the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night.
Chris Kelly and Antoine Vermette each had one goal and one assist as the hometown Senators blanked the Penguins 3-0 in Game 5 of their NHL Eastern Conference quarter-final before a spillover crowd of 20,179 at Scotiabank Place.
Ray Emery posted 20 saves for his first post-season shutout as Ottawa clinched the best-of-seven series 4-1.
"Emery had to be the star of the series," Senators head coach Bryan Murray said. "He and [captain Daniel] Alfredsson were the two guys that got this team to where we are."
"There is nothing to be ashamed about," Penguins head coach Michel Therrien said. "They played better than us, they have more experience than us.
"We got beat by a great hockey team. They got a chance to win the Stanley Cup."
Dany Heatley opened the scoring for the fourth-ranked Senators, who have advanced to the second round for just the fifth time in 10 seasons.
Last spring, they dispatched the Tampa Bay Lightning in five games in the opening round before falling to the Buffalo Sabres.
"I'm not too concerned about what guys did in the past or what the team's done in the past," Emery said.
"They know what it takes now," Penguins forward Gary Roberts said. "They definitely played the best hockey I have seen them play in years.
"You've got to take your hat off to them. They competed hard, they are well-coached and they beat us fair and square."
Ottawa was the dominant team throughout the series, especially in the second period, when it scored nine of its 18 goals.
"Four lines played pretty much the whole series for us," Alfredsson said. "We did not have to really shorten the bench a lot, which pretty much kept everyone fresh.
"We could do that more than Pittsburgh. We got the lead in most of the games and that made life a lot easier."
Emery, too, was remarkably efficient, stopping 100 of 110 shots in the series.
"I want to win," he said bluntly.
Penguins sputter offensively
Marc-Andre Fleury made 23 saves in the season finale for the fifth-seeded Penguins.
Sidney Crosby, who, at 19, is the youngest scoring champion in league history, failed to register a point for the second game in a row.
"We took away his drive as much as we could because this guy [Crosby] drives the net and moves the puck better than anybody," Murray said. "I thought our D did a really good job there."
Moreover, key offensive contributors Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen, Evgeni Malkin, Ryan Malone and Mark Recchi all failed to score for Pittsburgh in the series.
"We will learn from this and be better for it," said Crosby, who had a team-high five points in the series.
"We had 14 or 15 guys playing their first playoff round," Recchi said. "Next year, it is not going to be so foreign to them."
Another factor in Pittsburgh's downfall was its lack of success on the power play, which was 0-15 over the final three games.
"Looking at the big picture, it was a great season," Therrien said. "We have to be optimistic about the future."
"It was a big turnaround," Crosby said in assessing the season. "The playoffs were tough, but maybe it was something that had to happen for us to learn."
Senators survive early scares
The Senators were assessed three penalties in the opening four minutes of the contest, and forced to negate a pair of lengthy 5-on-3 power plays.
But they emerged unscathed as Emery stopped seven straight shots, including two by Crosby from point-blank range.
"We had a couple of good chances on those power plays and couldn't put them in," Crosby said. "[Hockey] is a game of missed opportunities and we might have missed some opportunities there."
Back at even strength, Ottawa asserted itself and outshot Pittsburgh 9-2 in the remaining 14 minutes of the first period, but failed to score.
The Senators finally solved Fleury 68 seconds into the second period as Tom Preissing cycled the puck down low to Alfredsson, who fed Heatley in the slot for his second goal of the series.
"I think we started skating at that point and got really aggressive and played to win," Murray said.
Moments after Anton Volchenkov's penalty expired, Kelly sprung Vermette on a partial breakaway and he beat Fleury between the pads for his first goal of the playoffs.
The Senators took a 3-0 lead at 17:55 when Chris Neil stole the puck behind the net and passed out front to Kelly, who waited patiently for Fleury to commit before firing in his third.
Comrie almost made it 4-0 on a breakaway in the final minute of the period, but his slapshot rang off the left post and under a beleaguered Fleury.
"We did a lot of good things," Senators forward Mike Fisher said. "We're going to take a lot of positives into round two."