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Penguins now the favorite in series with Senators

by Brian Compton

After losing to Ottawa in last year's Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Penguins are primed to send the Senators packing.
A few thoughts as the best time of the year has arrived:

Seeking Revenge – It was a long offseason for the Pittsburgh Penguins after they were ousted from the 2007 Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Ottawa Senators.

One year later, they meet again.

The Pens and Sens begin a best-of-seven series tonight at Mellon Arena, where Sidney Crosby & Co. will look to avenge last year's result.

"It's payback for us," Pittsburgh forward Jordan Staal said. "The guys in this dressing room know we can do it. What better test than Ottawa?"

It certainly is a different Ottawa team than the one the Pens faced a year ago. While many of the same pieces are in place, the Senators struggled so badly in the second half of the season, they barely hung on to a playoff spot. The freefall cost coach John Paddock his job.

"We're well aware that no one is picking us to win this series," said Senators forward Jason Spezza, who led Ottawa with 58 assists and 92 points. "I don't see a lot of people that believe in us. We've got a bad rap the last month or so here, but we feel differently about our team. We still have the manpower here."

Some thought Pittsburgh lacked manpower when Crosby went down with a high ankle sprain in January. But Evgeni Malkin took his game to new heights in the captain's absence. In the 28 games Crosby missed, he notched 20 goals and 24 assists as the Pens went 16-8-4. Malkin had at least three points in nine of those contests.

"(Malkin) has the confidence to make plays and more moves," Ottawa defenseman Chris Phillips said. "This year, they definitely have a few more dimensions we have to be aware of. … You have to be in their face as much as possible and limit their time with the puck."

Pittsburgh saw its chances limited in a 2-0 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers last Sunday. The loss denied the Pens a shot at the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, and ultimately translated into a Pittsburgh-Ottawa rematch.

Senators GM/coach Bryan Murray made a strong accusation about Sunday's game – which the Pens opted to play without Crosby.

"I knew what was going on," Murray said. "You guys (the media) all know they wanted to play Ottawa. That's fine. Obviously (the Penguins) think that we're a better team to play at this moment. It's a challenge. It doesn't matter what we say or do now. We've got to play our best hockey of the year without a question and find a way to compete each and every game and each and every shift."
There's plenty of playoff history between the Rangers and Devils, who begin their quarterfinal series tonight.
Do You Smell What The Rock Is Cooking? – Emotions will run high on the ice and in the stands tonight, as the New Jersey Devils meet the New York Rangers at Prudential Center in the first of what is expected to be a tremendous best-of-seven series.

New Jersey's shootout win against the Rangers on Sunday afternoon was the Devils' first victory against the Blueshirts this season. Now, though, all of that gets tossed out the window.

This marks the fifth time the teams have met in the postseason, and Martin Brodeur has been present for all of them. Despite his 1-4-3 record, No. 30 posted a 1.96 GAA against New York this season. The Rangers have taken three of the four playoff series the teams have played, but the Devils swept the most recent meeting, in 2006.

"Nobody forgets about a Rangers-Devils series," Brodeur said. "It's demanding. It's a piece of history when you play the Rangers."

Brodeur will have to be in top form if the Devils plan on advancing to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. On the opposite side of the ice will be Henrik Lundqvist, whose 10 shutouts during the regular season were the most by a Rangers goaltender since John Roach recorded 13 in 1929.
"He's right on the bean here, he's sharp, he's focused, his level of concentration is exceptional and his competitive juices are right where they need to be," New York coach Tom Renney said of Lundqvist, who matched a career high with 37 wins this season.

Three For Three? Peter Forsberg, Joe Sakic and Adam Foote won Stanley Cups as members of the Colorado Avalanche in 1996 and 2001.

The quest for No. 3 begins tonight.

By securing the sixth seed in the Western Conference on Sunday afternoon, the Avs set themselves up to face the Minnesota Wild, who won a hotly contested battle to claim the Northwest Division title. The first two games of the series will be played at the Xcel Energy Center.

As far as the trio is concerned, only Sakic has been with Colorado since the start of the season. Forsberg signed with the Avs as a free agent Feb. 25 – just one day before Foote was acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg eye their third championship together as the Avs hit the ice tonight against the Wild.
"You need experience and you can only get experience by playing," said Sakic, who has 82 playoff goals in his Hall of Fame career. "Both those guys are going to help out. We have a lot of experience in here and everyone needs to pick it up."

Should the Avs do that, Wild netminder Niklas Backstrom is going to have his hands full. Backstrom, who won a franchise-record 33 games this season, was between the pipes for Minnesota's first-round loss to the Anaheim Ducks last season, which lasted only five games. However, his GAA was a respectable 2.22.

Minnesota is hoping to provide more of a physical presence in this postseason after failing to match up with the rugged Ducks in 2007. Since then, the Wild have acquired veteran forwards Chris Simon and Todd Fedoruk.

"You've got to be ready for seven games in every round, so the more you hit, the more you finish your checks, the more that adds up," said Simon, who arrived from the New York Islanders on deadline day. "It's like putting money in the bank. It pays off in the end, wearing guys down."

Going For It All – While it appears more than likely that All-Star defenseman Brian Campbell is going to test the free-agent waters in July, that wasn't enough to stop the San Jose Sharks from acquiring him from the Buffalo Sabres on trade-deadline day.

In the end, the Sharks went from simply fighting for a playoff spot to a Western Conference powerhouse. Once Campbell arrived in the Feb. 26 deal, San Jose lost just two games in regulation the rest of the way and nearly unseated Detroit for the top seed in the West.

That's how well the Sharks have clicked since Campbell's arrival. Of course, it helps that he and All-Star center Joe Thornton have been pals since childhood.

"It helps a little bit because Brian Campbell (and Thornton) are buddies from a long time, and Brian eggs him on into doing some things," Sharks coach Ron Wilson said. "(Campbell) has challenged him a little bit. I've told Joe a thousand times, being successful in the playoffs is the ability to make adjustments. I think he understands that."

After being eliminated in the second round in back-to-back seasons, the Sharks made an adjustment and picked up one of the best blueliners in the game. The pieces appear to be in place for a long postseason.

"We have a lot more skill now and we're bigger than before," captain Patrick Marleau said.

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