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Fans flock for NHL Bridgestone Premiere

by Brian Compton and Brian Hunter
A few thoughts while we wait for Round 2 of the Bridgestone NHL Premiere:

Smashing Success – As it turns out, the four teams competing in the 2008 Bridgestone NHL Premiere weren’t the only ones traveling great distances to participate in this tremendous event.

"I drove four hours to see the game," said Michal Jadrnicek, a native of the Czech Republic who traveled to Prague to witness the New York Rangers’ 2-1 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning. "This is a big night."

It was a big night in Stockholm, too, where the Ottawa Senators met the Pittsburgh Penguins. Certainly, it was an unforgettable experience for Americans such as Eric Sinagra, Zack Young, Crystal Kreamer, Sarah Krolikowski and Matt White. All five are from Pittsburgh and attending Duquesne University. They traveled from Rome (where they are studying abroad), just to see the reigning Eastern Conference champions.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance as a Penguins fan," said Tony Armel, right before Pittsburgh’s 4-3 overtime win.

No doubt, Tyler Kennedy’s overtime winner made the trip worthwhile.

PK performs – Among the areas where the Ottawa Senators need to improve is their discipline, as they took seven penalties over the first two periods in Saturday’s opener. That included five separate minors in the first and a 38-second span in which the Penguins enjoyed a 5-on-3 advantage.

To their credit, though, Ottawa’s penalty-killing unit was up to the task. Not only did it hold Pittsburgh to 0-for-7 on the power play, but Jason Spezza put the Senators ahead 3-2 late in the second when he scored a goal with Chris Phillips in the box for slashing.

“They’ve been giving a lot of teams trouble with their penalty killing,” Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby said. “You have to be patient against them. There's no doubt we need to be better.”

But the Senators couldn’t capitalize on their excellent shorthanded play, as some shaky goaltending and a costly turnover in overtime compromised their efforts to pick up a second point. Still, new coach Craig Hartsburg chose to emphasize the positive in his first regular-season game back behind the bench.

“I thought we played hard and competed hard for 65 minutes,” Hartsburg said. “We did a lot of good things … we have to be a little bit smarter.”

Great Start – With Jaromir Jagr and Brendan Shanahan out of the picture, the Rangers are banking on Markus Naslund regaining his scoring touch.

On Saturday, the first deposit was made.

Naslund – who hasn’t reached the 30-goal plateau since the 2005-06 season, got off to a quick start as a Blueshirt by scoring the club’s first goal of the campaign. For those who believe Naslund can replace Jagr, the former Vancouver Canucks captain doesn’t believe that’s possible.

“I didn’t replace Jaromir. I don’t think anyone can,” Naslund said. “I’m just trying to find my game and playing to my potential. It was a great atmosphere. The fans were really into it. It was fun.”

Playing his role – Fourth-liner or scoring sensation? Tyler Kennedy, a second-year forward on the Pittsburgh Penguins, was slated to play more limited minutes on the checking line, but found himself thrust into a higher-profile spot when Petr Sykora went out with a groin injury prior to Saturday’s start of the Bridgestone NHL Premiere Stockholm series against the Ottawa Senators.

Kennedy, who chipped in 10 goals while playing 55 games as a rookie last season, was bumped up to the second line and responded like someone who belonged there. On his first shift, he opened the scoring just 40 seconds into the game. Almost 64 minutes worth of hockey later, he capped it off with the overtime goal that gave the defending Eastern Conference champions a 4-3 victory.

“I’m glad to get it off my back for one, and for the second I’m just excited to help the team win and get the season on a roll here,” said Kennedy, who took advantage of a turnover by Senators center Jason Spezza in the neutral zone.


“He (Spezza) just kicked the puck up and I just tried to get the puck towards the net and shoot as hard as I can. I try to get as many pucks on the goal as I can, and tonight they went in.”

Skating primarily on a line with Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal, Kennedy took 19 shifts for a total of 14:12 of ice time. With Sykora unlikely for Sunday’s rematch, Kennedy should get a chance to build upon the superb start to his sophomore season. He says he’s ready.

“I think I worked hard in the summer and drew confidence out of that,” Kennedy said. “So I came into the season with confidence.”

Ready To Roll – A trip to Europe can be dangerous for some teams – see Anaheim and Los Angeles – due to the extensive travel and the distractions an unfamiliar city can provide. But judging by the way the Rangers performed on Saturday, there was no reason to believe the aforementioned got the best of them.

It’s further proof that coach Tom Renney has his teams prepared from the get-go. With Saturday’s win, Renney improved to 6-0 in season openers.

“As a team you could really sense that we very much into this tonight,” Renney said. “Our level of preparation and concentration was excellent. To see our team before the game was to see a sense that this was the big time. This is what we do for a living.”

Brandon Dubinsky agreed. The 22-year-old played a huge role in the victory, as his power-play goal with 5:44 remaining in the third period broke a 1-1 tie.

“We played great and we deserved to win tonight,” Dubinsky said. “We’re real happy with the way we played start to finish, and happy that we got the result we wanted.”

Material from wire services and team websites was used in this report.


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