Ovechkin played through hamstring, knee injuries in playoffs

Ottawa's Jean Gabriel Pageau battles with Pittsburgh's Carter Rowney along the boards during the second period of Game 1 of the NHL's Eastern Conference finals

Pens take on Senators in Eastern Conference Finals

The Penguins, however, suffered a huge blow when Letang was lost to herniated disc surgery on the eve of the post-season. The Penguins had four power plays. They were in charge. "It is big this time of year", said Senators winger Bobby Ryan, who scored the overtime victor Saturday and assisted on Jean-Gabriel Pageau's goal. It was unbelievable. In all the small spaces he was creating his own space, his own chances.

By all accounts, those close to Ryan and the Senators say his coping with his mother's death would help explain his toughest year as a professional hockey player as much as the injuries that caused him to miss 19 games.

If the Penguins repeat, they will match the feat they accomplished in 1991-92. But you play through that.

Offensively, Pittsburgh's Jake Guentzel has been the surprise playoff leader in goals with nine. "They're there. We hit at least three posts and there's some good looks there". Yet the Senators faced a greater challenge in the Rangers and displayed enough determination to come out victorious.

It was more than just defence, though.

Favorites or not, the Pens were shut down, failing to capitalize on five power-play shots and falling victim to Ottawa's blue-line dominance. Ottawa's 98 points was just the sixth-highest mark in the Eastern Conference, far behind the Capitals 118 and Pittsburgh's 111. It's fairly remarkable the Senators have wound up in overtime seven times in 12 games and even more remarkable that they've won so many. It remained 1-0 until Evgeni Malkin beat Craig Anderson with 5:35 left in regulation. It appears the National Hockey League record for OT games is set to fall this season - with nearly a full two rounds to go, we're only three OT games shy of the record.

Of course, he also said that if Ottawa didn't negate Pittsburgh's speed, "they're going to go right through us". The 29-year-old kept circling back to not "capitalizing on our chances" when trying to explain the Capitals' latest failure.

The Penguins should look to continue their strong play and hope that it translates well against a hot Senators teams. It might have been boring, and there was a little luck involved.

With perhaps a nod to the Game 1 outcome, Ottawa took a day away from the ice Sunday while the Penguins held a full-team practice. "I'm just going to be honest with what I think". He saw what the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers responded to them and those teams aren't as good as the one they're facing in the Eastern Conference final.

By the end they had outplayed the champs, and Ryan got to grin some more.

Those are not the kind of numbers you'd expect from a team preparing for the conference finals, and yet here the Sens are, just four wins away from the Stanley Cup Final. His pass on the first goal was aces, and the game-winner was sublime. No, it wasn't pretty - the Ryan goal was the rare breakaway - but the Senators stopped caring about style points long ago. I think he's done a lot more than score goals. He said there were "growing pains" and he struggled with the "learning curve". Ryan saved it for the biggest stage of his career, his first appearance in an Eastern Conference final. "Playoffs haven't been fun here, and maybe having some fun and laughing at the past a little bit and looking in [its] face is probably something that might ease us in the future. I'm sure the organization will figure that out and try again".

In the playoffs, special teams can determine the difference between winning and losing a game or a series. Before this series began, the bookies had Pittsburgh as heavy, heavy favourites.

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