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Pens begin title defense against Sens

by Adam Kimelman
SENATORS (44-32-6) at PENGUINS (47-28-7)

Last 10 -- Ottawa 7-2-1; Pittsburgh 5-4-1.

Season series -- The teams split four meetings this season, with each team winning once at home and once on the road. They haven't played since Jan. 28, when Brian Elliott made 30 saves to lead the Senators to a 4-1 win in Pittsburgh.

Big story -- The Senators, after sitting out last year's postseason, will look for Elliott to get into the kind of hot streak that lifted them into playoff contention. How will the first-time playoff starter handle the pressure?

The Penguins open their defense of the Stanley Cup in the same position they were a season ago -- fourth in the Eastern Conference. How much will the experience the team gained during last year's run help them this spring?

Team Scope:

Senators -- Ottawa knows exactly what it's up against in the defending Stanley Cup champions and all their firepower, but players and coaches believe more pressure is on the Penguins.

"I think the pressure is all on the home team to come out and play well," Senators defenseman Chris Phillips told the Ottawa Sun. "I think we're in a good spot."

Coach Cory Clouston said nothing changes from his team's game plan.

"When we play our game, we're very effective and tough to beat," he told the Sun. "We did a good job, but now that just gives us the opportunity in the second, the real season. Feel good about yourselves, that you got yourselves into the playoffs, but the real work is just starting."

Penguins -- An Olympic gold medal, a share of the Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy and a chance to defend the Stanley Cup -- not a bad season for Sidney Crosby, who finished with a career-best 51 goals, and played 81 games, the first time he's played at least 80 games since his rookie season. He also finished second in the League with 109 points, the second-best total of his five NHL seasons.

"Definitely my best year points-wise," Crosby told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "I feel like this year, maybe there weren't as many points, but consistency was there. With everything that went on with the Olympics that was important to me, I'm happy with my consistency. I think my overall game was hopefully better with face-offs (55.9 percent) and things like that. Maybe I'm not comparable points-wise, but I feel like I improved in other areas, too."

Who's hot -- Daniel Alfredsson may not have a goal in seven games heading into the playoffs, but he's no stranger to scoring them against the Penguins -- in 53 games, he has 18 goals and 55 points.

Crosby is entering the playoffs on a nice little streak. In his last eight games, he had 6 goals and 20 points -- including five games with at least 3 points.

Injury report -- The Senators lost forward Alexei Kovalev for the entire playoffs with a torn knee ligament suffered Thursday against Tampa Bay. Defenseman Filip Kuba, who had back surgery last week, will be out at least a month, and probably more.

Penguins forward Chris Kunitz, who sat out the last four games of the regular season with a shoulder injury, is questionable for Game 1. Left wing Matt Cooke, who suffered a head injury Saturday against Atlanta, also is questionable. Defenseman Brooks Orpik, who sat out Sunday's finale with a leg injury, likely will play Wednesday.

Stat pack -- If regular-season form holds in the playoffs, don't expect any nail-biters in this series. The closest games were a pair of three-goal decisions. There also was a 6-2 Senators win in Ottawa, and an 8-2 Penguins shellacking in Pittsburgh.

Puck drop -- Could Eric Tangradi be a secret weapon for the Penguins? Cooke's injury forced the Pens to give the rookie his NHL debut in Sunday's season-finale, and coach Dan Bylsma was happy with what he saw.

"Probably the toughest thing for a player to get is confidence from his coach, and by the end of the game, he had my confidence," Bylsma told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "With a minute and a half left in regulation, I was putting him on the ice."

Tangradi, who had 17 goals and 39 points in 65 games with the Pens' AHL team, had three shots and three hits in 13:49 of ice time.
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