Kris Letang and Erik Karlsson, two of the NHL's elite defensemen and minute-eating machines, stood in a hallway outside of Ottawa's dressing room and quietly chatted not long after the conclusion of the Penguins' 3-2 double-overtime win in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final late Thursday night at PPG Paints Arena.

Down the hallway, a few of the Penguins' healthy defensemen continued to linger in the team dressing room and answer media questions about how they kept their composure and outlasted the frustrating Senators. Letang's name came up here and there in queries and responses. Speculation of how coach Mike Sullivan and his staff might've distributed minutes to defensemen in the 85-minute series finale was saved for another day, though.

How the Penguins secured a return trip to the Stanley Cup Final without the services of their most valuable skater on the back end remains a fascinating topic. Letang, Chicago's Duncan Keith, Los Angeles' Drew Doughty and Boston's Zdeno Chara established a chain of workhorse No. 1 defensemen on Cup winners, and three of the last four teams in the 2017 playoffs possessed at least one bona fide elite blue liner.