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Penguins, Senators set to renew playoff rivalry

by Brian Hunter



Season series: The Pittsburgh Penguins took all three regular-season matchups from the Ottawa Senators, including the Feb. 13 game in which Matt Cooke's skate cut the Achilles tendon of Erik Karlsson and knocked the all-world defenseman out of the lineup for over two months. The teams have met three previous times in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, all in the first round -- the Senators won in 2007, while the Penguins prevailed in 2008 and 2010.

Big story: Both teams had semi-unexpected results in their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series. The top-seeded Penguins struggled with the eighth-seeded New York Islanders more than most people expected, coming within a goal of having to play seven games. Meanwhile, the seventh-seeded Senators dispatched of the second-seeded Montreal Canadiens with relative ease, cruising to a five-game series win. These teams were the only ones to average four goals per game or more during the first round, and each has the offensive personnel to create fireworks in this conference semifinal.

Team Scope:

Senators: With this series the first of the conference semifinals to get under way, Ottawa will have had four days off since Game 5 against Montreal -- enough time to rest some bumps and bruises created by a physical series, but not so much where it should create rust in the Senators' game.

And that's important, because the Senators clicked on all cylinders against the Canadiens -- starting in net, where Craig Anderson flashed the form that made him an early candidate for the Vezina Trophy. Daniel Alfredsson turned back the clock, posting six points to tie with Karlsson for the team lead, and late-season call-up Jean-Gabriel Pageau had a Game 3 hat trick.

"Opportunity, that's what every single team has here in the second round," forward Colin Greening told the Ottawa Citizen. "If you watch the games, you see that teams are peaking at this time of year and it's the best time to peak. Whether you're third seed or fourth seed or whatever seed you are, that doesn't matter. All that matters is that you're playing at this time of year."

Penguins: The big question in Pittsburgh for the remainder of the playoffs figures to center around the goaltending. Tomas Vokoun, who will start Tuesday, allowed three goals on 69 shots over the final two games to stabilize the position after Marc-Andre Fleury's struggles in Games 2 through 4 threatened to derail the Penguins' anticipated run deep into the postseason. However, Fleury is the far more accomplished playoff goalie, with 40 more wins than Vokoun and a Stanley Cup on his resume.

Offensively, there's no reason to worry about the Penguins -- even Brooks Orpik is providing timely goals. The big concern is whether the defense and whoever's in net can do a better job than the Canadiens did of stopping a Senators attack that is quite proficient itself.

"We have confidence in both guys, no matter who it is," captain Sidney Crosby said. "They've both proven for a long time that they're more than capable of doing a great job. We feel very comfortable with either one as players, but it's not up to us to decide who goes into net."

Who's hot: Kyle Turris has goals in three consecutive games for the Senators. Cory Conacher scored the tying goal in Game 4 against the Canadiens, then added two goals in the clinching Game 5. Anderson posted a .950 save percentage in the first round. … Evgeni Malkin (2-9-11), Jarome Iginla (2-7-9) and Pascal Dupuis (5-2-7) all have six-game points streaks for the Penguins to start the postseason. Crosby was on the score sheet in all five games he played, notching three goals and six assists.

Injury report: Ottawa forward Jason Spezza is the wild card in this series -- he's been skating with the team and testing out his back after surgery for a herniated disk limited him to just five games in January. There's speculation Spezza could play in this series, though both he and coach Paul MacLean have tried to temper any expectations, and Spezza didn't travel with the team to Pittsburgh. Defenseman Patrick Wiercioch is day-to-day after missing the final two games of the Montreal series with a lower-body injury.

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