SENATORS at PENGUINS
(Pittsburgh leads best-of-7 series 3-1)
Big story -- What a difference a week makes. One week ago, there was worry -- if not panic -- in Pittsburgh after Ottawa beat the Penguins 5-4 in the series opener. But as the Penguins come home for Game 5, there's a sense of anticipation after three consecutive wins over the Senators, including 4-2 and 7-4 victories at Ottawa in which the Penguins never trailed and looked increasingly dominant as time went by.
Senators -- Ottawa's offense finally showed up again in Game 4, but by the time the Senators began finding the back of the net, they were trailing 4-0. Ottawa got four goals in the final 33 minutes, but couldn't put a lid on Sidney Crosby & Co. Coach Cory Clouston pulled starter Brian Elliott in favor of Pascal Leclaire, but it didn't stem the tide of Pittsburgh goals.
"Being down 3-1, it's a tough position to be in to come back," captain Daniel Alfredsson said. "It doesn't happen a lot. You just know that if you don't give it your all, it's not going to happen. We're going to go in there, and it's one game. All we can do is try to bring it back here to Ottawa and then take it from there.
Clouston isn't saying who will start in goal on Thursday -- Elliott has been ordinary and Leclaire was no better. He didn't rule out the possibility of using third-stringer Mike Brodeur, who had a couple of big wins to start a midseason hot streak.
"I'm not going to comment on that because I'm not going to comment on who our goalie will be," Clouston said Wednesday. "When we needed him (Brodeur), he was very good for us a couple of crucial times in times in the season. I will admit that for sure."
Penguins -- The Pens' job is simple -- keep their eye on the prize, which in this case will be some time off if they can complete a five-game blitz of the reeling Senators, who have shown no signs of being able to slow down the defending champions.
That doesn't mean coach Dan Bylsma or his players are ready to claim victory.
"Playoff series are all about getting four wins and trying to get there as quickly as you possibly can," Bylsma said. "They are playing very hard. They are coming at us physically, and it has been demanding that way. We are going to expect more of that. We still think that we can play better. There are areas of our game that we are talking about where we can get better, and we want to make sure that we are doing that."
Who's hot -- Ottawa center Matt Cullen, a late-season acquisition, has 2 goals and 6 points in four games, tops on the Senators. … No one in the playoffs is hotter than Crosby, whose 11 points (4 goals, 7 assists) are the most of anyone through the first week of the postseason. But Evgeni Malkin has also been producing, scoring 4 goals in as many games. Defenseman Sergei Gonchar has 6 assists.
Injury report -- Pittsburgh forward Tyler Kennedy, who left early in Game 3 after a hit by Andy Sutton, has a lower body injury and is day-to-day. Defenseman Jordan Leopold, who hasn't played since being hit in the head by Sutton during the first period of Game 2, is also listed as day-to-day. … Ottawa has been hampered by the absence of top-six forwards Alex Kovalev and Milan Michalek, both of whom are gone for the playoffs after knee surgery.
Stat pack -- Perhaps the only thing that can slow down the Penguins is history. They're 2-4 in the last six games in which they have the opportunity to eliminate an opponent in a non-Game 7 situation. That includes a 3-0 loss to Philadelphia in the first round last year.
Puck drop -- After an opening-night hiccup, the Penguins reasserted themselves as defending Stanley Cup champions, increasing their domination as the series has progressed. Ottawa hasn't gotten the kind of goaltending that can steal games in the postseason, and unless that happens, the Senators will be booking tee times by the weekend. They will need a vastly improved effort across the board to send the series back to Ottawa.