Following their 7-3 win on Wednesday in Ottawa, the Penguins returned home for Game 5 and the team's offense was once again firing on all cylinders with a convincing 6-2 victory.
As Chris Johnston of Sportsnet points out, these high-scoring games have become a common theme throughout the team's playoff run:
Chris Johnston @reporterchris
Make it nine of 11 games this playoffs where the #pens have at least four goals.5/25/2013, 1:18:05 AM
This victory has given Pittsburgh a spot in the Eastern Conference Final for the first time since its Stanley Cup-winning season in 2008-09. It's also the first time this team has clinched a playoff series at home since 2008.
The question that remains ahead of the conference finals is if this Penguins team is an unstoppable machine that will maintain its torrid offensive pace all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.
Going back to the third period of Game 4 in Ottawa, the Penguins outscored the Senators 10-3 in the final four frames of the series and consistently controlled the flow of play in all three zones.
Pittsburgh's offense started to hit its stride in the second round, and by the end of Game 5, it became a dominating force. Here are some notable offensive stats from the team's playoff run thus far:
|1st Period Goals||16||1st|
|2nd Period Goals||19||1st|
Aside from its obvious amount of incredible skill, the real strength of this Penguins offense is its depth, which was bolstered further by the trade-deadline acquisitions of Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow and Jussi Jokinen.
These players have made a smooth transition into the lineup and credit head coach Dan Bylsma for preventing team-chemistry issues by finding the best line combinations to put the newly acquired forwards in a position to best utilize their skills.
When you look at the team's top-six forward group, there are almost no areas of weakness for opposing head coaches to gameplan around.
The top line of Sidney Crosby, Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz was arguably the most effective line in hockey during the regular season. Crosby is the world's best player with a skill set that includes everything you want in a No. 1 center. Dupuis and Kunitz are both hard-working wingers who take advantage of their scoring opportunities and play responsible defense.
The second line boasts a trio of Evgeni Malkin, Jarome Iginla and James Neal, which is arguably the most talented line in all of hockey. Malkin is the reigning Hart Trophy winner, Iginla is a proven playoff performer and Neal has raised his game at the perfect time.
In his first eight games of the playoffs, Neal tallied just one point. In the final two contests of the second round, he scored five goals with two assists to break out of his slump, including a hat trick in Game 5.
It doesn't matter if one, two or even three of the Penguins' top forwards are having a tough time finding the back of the net because the team has enough depth to win games without its stars playing at a high level.
Matt Cooke, Brandon Sutter, Jokinen and Morrow are among Pittsburgh's bottom-six forwards who excel at both ends of the ice and provide important secondary scoring when the stars struggle.
Shutting down the Penguins forwards is a tough challenge in itself, but when the team gets scoring from the blue line, it becomes almost impossible to prevent this offense from scoring three or four goals.
The Penguins rank second in the NHL in goals scored (eight) by defensemen during the playoffs. Norris Trophy finalist Kris Letang has steadily improved as the postseason has progressed and tallied seven points in the final two games of the Senators series.
But the Penguins' biggest threat offensively is their amazing power play, which is so tough to defend because of its quick puck movement, good spacing and the creativity of Malkin and Crosby.
Pittsburgh leads all playoff teams with 13 power-play goals and a league-best success rate of 28.3 percent. The Sporting News' Sean Gentille notes that this power play is also super effective on home ice:
Sean Gentille @seangentille
Pittsburgh has scored at least one power-play goal in each of its last eight home games.5/25/2013, 1:32:44 AM
Another positive for the Penguins heading into the Eastern Conference Final is the benefit of home-ice advantage. They are 5-1 at the Consol Energy Center in the playoffs and lead all teams with 26 goals scored at home.
Pittsburgh will also have a few days of rest before opening up the next series at home, which will help tremendously after two physical matchups.
The Penguins are a well-oiled machine right now with more skill and depth than any team remaining in the 2013 playoffs. If their offense maintains its current level of execution, Pittsburgh will be able to win games even if starting goaltender Tomas Vokoun has a subpar performance in the next round.
We rarely see teams overcome inconsistent defense and goaltending in the playoffs, but this Penguins team has the depth and talent to win a championship playing a lot of high-scoring games.
They do have flaws that can be exploited, as with every other team in the playoffs. But like most veteran teams, when a few players struggle, others step up.
If there were any questions about them being the favorites to win the Stanley Cup following a hard-fought six-game first-round series victory over the New York Islanders, Pittsburgh answered them emphatically in Round 2.
The Penguins are beginning to rediscover the form they had during the team's 15-game winning streak in March, which is bad news for their next opponent—whether it's the Boston Bruins or New York Rangers.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Nick was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs, and he is also a credentialed writer at the 2013 NHL playoffs in Boston.
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