Philadelphia — Jake Guentzel dropped to his right knee and slid on the ice in celebration, not only for his second career postseason hat trick, but for the goal that assured Pittsburgh was moving on in the playoffs.
He has established his playoff pedigree as a sensational scorer in just two seasons and helped keep a third straight championship in sight for the Penguins.
Guentzel scored four straight goals to help send the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins into the next round with an 8-5 win over the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 6 on Sunday.
The Penguins play the winner of the Washington-Columbus series in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Washington leads that series 3-2.
Guentzel scored six goals in the series and added another hat trick to pair with the one he had as a rookie in a first-round series last season against the Blue Jackets.
“He has the ability to play his best when the stakes are the highest. We have a team that does that,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “They embrace adversity. They embrace the struggle. Our team doesn’t get rattled. They embrace the challenge.”
Guentzel had the third four-goal playoff game in team history, joining Mario Lemieux in 1989 and Kevin Stevens in 1991.
“This is what you want to play in,” Guentzel said. “You grow up dreaming about this and this is definitely fun. When the bounces start going your way, you just try and run with it.”
Sean Couturier had the 24th playoff hat trick for the Flyers, who haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1975.
Couturier said he played with a torn right MCL suffered in a collision with a teammate at practice last week.
“I couldn’t move that well, so I just tried to be well-positioned, have good sticks,” he said.
Guentzel, not Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel or the injured Evgeni Malkin, won the game for the Penguins with goals off costly Flyers turnovers, leading them to their ninth straight playoff series win.
He tied the game at 4 with 54 seconds left in the second period off a Flyers turnover.
He scored 30 seconds into the third for the lead off another giveaway, and sealed one more lopsided win over the Flyers with two goals 10 seconds apart late in the period.
It was 2-2 after one period, 4-4 after two, and nothing was decided in the fiercest game of the series between the longstanding rivals until Guentzel took control.
Nashville 5, (at) Colorado 0: Mattias Ekholm ignited the offense early with the first goal by a Nashville defenseman in the series, Pekka Rinne stopped 22 shots and the top-seeded Predators advanced to the second round.
Austin Watson, Filip Forsberg, Nick Bonino and Viktor Arvidsson also scored to help the Predators move on to face Winnipeg. They were 3-1-1 against the Jets in the regular season.
Nashville removed any sort of drama with two goals in the opening period and two more in the second to hush the capacity crowd. Rinne was on his game in notching his fourth career postseason shutout.