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5 Keys: Senators at Penguins, Game 1

Erik Karlsson's health, goaltending among keys for Ottawa; Pittsburgh needs fast start at home

by Wes Crosby / Correspondent


7 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports

Eastern Conference Final Game 1


PITTSBURGH -- Three days after the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Washington Capitals in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Second Round, they will host Game 1 of the conference final against the Ottawa Senators.

This is the first series of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs in which Ottawa has opened on the road. The Senators went 3-0 away from home against the Boston Bruins in the first round and 1-2 against the New York Rangers in the second.

Here are 5 keys for Game 1


1. Health of Erik Karlsson

Karlsson left the ice about five minutes into practice Friday but is expected to play. He has been playing with two hairline fractures in his left heel sustained on March 28.

The Senators did not hold a morning skate Saturday and provided no update on Karlsson.

Ottawa's captain leads all defensemen in the playoffs with 13 points (two goals, 11 assists). Karlsson said he would be ready for Game 1.

"I just tried new skates on, and [leaving practice early] was the plan all along," he said Friday. "Nothing really to read into there, either."

Video: The guys breakdown Erik Karlsson's clutch play


2. Marc-Andre Fleury vs. Craig Anderson

Though goalie Matt Murray has recovered from a lower-body injury, Fleury is still expected to start for Pittsburgh. Through two rounds, he has arguably been the Penguins' best player with eight wins in 12 starts, a 2.55 goals-against average and .927 save percentage.

Anderson, who was also 8-4 in the first two rounds, will attempt to reverse his history against Pittsburgh. When he last faced the Penguins in the postseason, Anderson was 1-3 in five starts in the 2013 second round. He allowed six goals in each of his final two starts of that best-of-7 series, which Pittsburgh won 4-1.


3. Pittsburgh looking to build momentum

After struggling to break out of their own zone throughout most of the first two rounds, the Penguins seemed to find something in Game 7 of the second round on Wednesday. Pittsburgh stifled Washington's attack and limited the Capitals to 29 shots, most of them from the outside, in a 2-0 win that came after losses in Games 5 and 6 evened the series.

The Penguins will need to carry over what worked in Game 7 and avoid regressing to what didn't in their previous 11 playoff games if they want to win Game 1.

"We know that pretty much any series this time of year is going to be tough," forward Bryan Rust said. "We know that coming in and we're going to be just as motivated or more motivated."

Video: Billy Jaffe with all the latest news on the Penguins


4. Coping with Senators forecheck

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan spent a large portion of practice Friday preparing his players for the Senators' 1-3-1 forecheck. He used Pittsburgh's expected scratches to simulate the neutral zone-clogging system during a lengthy scrimmage.

Pittsburgh is well aware of how effective the 1-3-1 can be. If the Penguins can't find a way to solve it, the Senators could suffocate them in the neutral zone.

"We can't ease into this," Sullivan said. "We have to make sure we're ready to play from the drop of the puck."


5. Faster starts for Penguins

Pittsburgh can't afford to waste the energy from the crowd, as they have at several points during the postseason. The Penguins, who were 31-6-4 at home during the regular season, are 4-2 in the playoffs.

There have been a few exceptions, but more often than not, Pittsburgh has been outplayed early before rebounding with a surge in the final two periods during the postseason. The Penguins particularly struggled against the Capitals and mostly depended on taking advantage of scarce scoring chances. Pittsburgh can do itself a favor by coming out strong in Game 1.

Video: Hradek previews Penguins vs Senators Conference Final


Senators projected lineup

Tommy Wingels -- Derick Brassard -- Mark Stone

Ryan Dzingel -- Kyle Turris -- Bobby Ryan

Mike Hoffman -- Jean-Gabriel Pageau -- Tom Pyatt

Clarke MacArthur -- Zack Smith -- Alexandre Burrows

Marc Methot -- Erik Karlsson

Dion Phaneuf -- Cody Ceci

Fredrik Claesson -- Chris Wideman

Craig Anderson

Mike Condon

Scratched: Viktor Stalberg, Chris Kelly, Chris Neil, Colin White, Jyrki Jokipakka, Christopher DiDomenico, Ben Harpur

Injured: Mark Borowiecki (lower body)


Penguins projected lineup

Jake Guentzel -- Sidney Crosby -- Bryan Rust

Chris Kunitz -- Evgeni Malkin -- Phil Kessel

Conor Sheary -- Nick Bonino -- Patric Hornqvist

Scott Wilson -- Matt Cullen -- Carter Rowney

Brian Dumoulin -- Ron Hainsey

Olli Maatta -- Justin Schultz

Ian Cole -- Chad Ruhwedel

Marc-Andre Fleury

Matt Murray

Scratched: Tom Kuhnhackl, Josh Archibald, Mark Streit, Oskar Sundqvist, Cameron Gaunce, Jean-Sebastien Dea, Derrick Pouliot, Daniel Sprong, Dominik Simon, David Warsofsky, Frank Corrado, Kevin Porter, Garrett Wilson, Tom Sestito, Tristan Jarry, Sean Maguire

Injured: Kris Letang (upper body), Trevor Daley (lower body), Carl Hagelin (lower body)


Status report

Neil skated with the Senators' scratches Saturday and is unlikely to play. … Kuhnhackl is likely to be a healthy scratch for the second consecutive game.


Who's hot

Pageau has seven goals in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, with six coming against the Rangers in the second round. He is two goals behind Guentzel for the NHL lead. … Kessel has 10 points (four goals, six assists) in his past nine games. He has 13 points (five goals, eight assists) in the playoffs.

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