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Conacher using physical edge to stand tall for Ottawa

by Chris Adamski

PITTSBURGH -- At 5-foot-8, Cory Conacher always had to do a little something extra if he was going to stand out from the crowd.

The Ottawa Senators rookie wing has found a way to do that, in what would be among the most unexpected of manners for someone who is tied for the second-shortest player still active in these Stanley Cup Playoffs.

He gets physical, agitates and isn't afraid to mix it up with those who tower over him in height and weight.

"I've always had that little bit of an edge and attitude to my game," Conacher said a day after taking three minor penalties during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"That's kind of the reason why I've been able to make it this far and coaches have given me an opportunity to play. And I want to keep that edge, because I think it can be effective."

In five playoff games, Conacher is tied for the Senators' lead in goals with three, and he's tied for the team lead in penalty minutes with 29.

"He plays with an edge," Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson said. "He's a quick skater that has skill -- but he has a feistiness to him. He likes to get in there, and he's not afraid."

Tuesday's series opener against the Penguins provided quite the example. Conacher went toe-to-toe -- though certainly not eye-to-eye -- with 6-foot-2, 228-pound Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik during an after-whistle skirmish.

Conacher later got involved with Kris Letang midway through the third period, and was one of seven players given unsportsmanlike conduct or misconduct penalties with 29 seconds left in the game. The average height of the other six? Taller than 6-2.

"His heart is bigger than his size a lot of times," Senators coach Paul MacLean said. "He's a very competitive person. He works hard to score goals and he goes to dirty areas to have an opportunity to score. And those are things we like about him and those are things we need to continue to see about him. He was in there in the competitive battles around the net (during Game 1), and we need more people who can do that."

Conacher went undrafted but put up 62 goals in a college career at Canisius. He was signed by the Tampa Bay Lightning and this season ranked seventh in the NHL in goals and points by a rookie as a 23-year-old. He was acquired in an April 3 trade along with a fourth-round draft pick for goalie Ben Bishop.

"He's been as-advertised," MacLean said.

Alfredsson said, "A welcome addition. Not just his edge and his skill -- his speed too. It fits the style we play."

Speed is probably Conacher's most visible attribute. Watch him skate and it is almost immediately what sticks out. But as the Senators are finding out, that's not all he brings.

Talk to Conacher about his game for only a few minutes and you'll hear him use words like "pest" and "chaos" to describe himself and how he plays.

Cory Conacher
Cory Conacher
Left Wing - OTT
GOALS: 3 | ASST: 0 | PTS: 3
SOG: 7 | +/-: 1
"I need to stay focused in myself and first be focused on trying to put the puck in the net and obviously being around the net and trying to be a pest around the net," Conacher said.

"I can't go over that line where I'm taking myself out of the game. If I'm in the box for four, six, eight, 10 minutes of the game, that's obviously not where I want to be. So I've got to focus on the goals first and the offensive and defensive play of the game, and then obviously I like to play and still be around the net and causing chaos a little bit."

Through it all, Conacher remains highly skilled enough to fit in with the most-prominent of linemates. With the Lightning, he was often skating with the reigning Rocket Richard Trophy winner (Steven Stamkos) and the one who would go on to earn the Art Ross (Martin St. Louis).

Often while with the Senators, Conacher has been on the top line with Alfredsson and Kyle Turris.

"He's been awesome," Turris said. "He's a great, skilled, energetic guy, and he plays with an edge. He's feisty. He's good with the puck and he has speed. He's a good player, just a lot of fun to play with.

"He's got to play with that edge and play feisty, and he does. He gets respect for it."

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