Senators, Penguins think deep prior to Game 7 (May 25, 2017)

PITTSBURGH — Game 7, such as the one the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators are facing Thursday in the Eastern Conference Final, brings out a lot of things.

Philosophers. Psychologists. Pragmatists. Or at least desperate hockey players playing armchair versions of those folks.

With the game at PPG Paints Arena set to determine which club moves on to face Nashville in the Stanley Cup Final beginning Monday, the Penguins and Senators seem to be thinking of every possible advantage while also trying to clear their minds.

Take, for instance, the approach from the two goaltenders.

Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray is trying to balance some tunnel vision against the fact that his team is coming off a 7-0 shellacking of Ottawa in Game 5 followed by a Game 6 in which the Penguins did what amounted to everything but win when they swarmed on offense and produced 46 shots, only to have the Senators’ Craig Anderson stop 45 in a 2-1 loss.

“I think (it’s) just the fact that it’s coming down to one game, and everything that’s led up to now really doesn’t matter,” Murray said Wednesday. “But at the same time, we want to take those good feelings from the last couple games.

“So, yeah, you just do what you need to do. You just try to worry about what you can control, and that’s how we prepare and how we play. I think, if we do that, the rest will take care of itself.”

Anderson, who got pulled in Game 5 before coming back strong in Game 6, pushed the power of positive thinking.

“It’s huge,” he said. “The mind is a powerful thing — history and the scientific data behind using your brain, using visualization as a tool to get yourself better.

“I think if you believe you’re beaten, you’re done already. If you believe that you can win, there’s always a chance.”

The teams have clashing styles with Ottawa’s methodical, smothering defensive scheme against Pittsburgh’s speed and high-octane offense. Evgeni Malkin (first with 24 points), Sidney Crosby (19) Phil Kessel (18) and Jake Guentzel (16) rank in the top seven in point production this postseason, while Erik Karlsson (16) is the only Ottawa player in the top seven.

Yet the first six games haven’t necessarily favored either pattern completely.

Further, statistics and trends often don’t fall true in these make-or-break games.

So, the fact that Ottawa is 0-5 in franchise history in Game 7s might not mean much. Same with Pittsburgh’s all-time record of 3-7 at home in Game 7s. Or Pittsburgh’s fresh memory of beating Washington 2-0 in Game 7 of the previous round. Or that fact that Penguins center Matt Cullen’s teams are 6-0 in his Game 7s over the years.

Cullen isn’t denying that these games are different.

“Well, I think just, obviously, the finality of it,” he said. “These are the games, when you’re a kid growing up, that you’re playing in the backyard. So, for us as players, this is what it’s all about. It’s a different level of intensity. It’s a different level of excitement. Obviously, when you get it, you move on.”

For Pittsburgh, falling in this Game 7 would mean failing to defend last year’s Stanley Cup championship. For Ottawa, it would be a jubilant upset.

Ottawa winger Mike Hoffman said he figures that’s an advantage for his club.

“No pressure on us,” Hoffman said. “They’re the ones that are favored. For us, we just go and take it as another hockey game.”

Pittsburgh might get a couple lineup reinforcements. Coach Mike Sullivan said feisty winger Patric Hornqvist and defenseman Justin Schultz could return from upper-body injuries.