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Pens learned plenty from first go-round with Sens

by Adam Kimelman
The core of the Pittsburgh Penguins played their first Stanley Cup Playoff games here in Ottawa in 2007. Three years later, those playoff "newbies" now are seasoned veterans, with most of them already past the 50-game threshold.

For a number of the Penguins' best players -- Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Marc-Andre Fleury and Brooks Orpik -- their second 50 games are starting against the same team, and in the same place, that their first 50 began -- the Ottawa Senators and Scotiabank Place.

"It's crazy how fast it goes," Fleury said. "Seems like it's not been that long ago that happened, and already we're at 50 games."

That first series against the Senators ended in five games. The teams split the first two games in Ottawa, but the Senators swept two games in Pittsburgh, and closed the series with a 3-0 win in Game 5 back in Ottawa.

For a number of the Penguins, however, Game 1 was a tough lesson on playoff hockey. The Senators, who would end that season in the Stanley Cup Final, were mostly a veteran group led by Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley. Ottawa led 3-0 midway through the second period, and scored three times in the first half of the third to cruise to a 6-3 victory.

"Never having played a playoff game, I remember it being pretty loud and pretty quick," said Crosby, who at age 19 scored a goal in the first game and led the team in scoring, with 5 points in five games. "I remember feeling that first 10 minutes it seemed like they had 10 guys out there. It was quick."

"Our first 10 minutes against this team, I don't think we got out of our end," Staal, then just 18, told "It was a battle. Fans were going nuts and we were getting smoked left, right and center. It was pretty shocking for my first playoff experience."

Much like good teams before them, the Penguins were able to learn from their first playoff adversity. The following year, it was Pittsburgh storming past Ottawa in the first round en route to reaching the Stanley Cup Final.

"I think even that series, we didn't do particularly well, but that experience helped for the next one," Crosby said. "Anytime you go through anything like that, if you make a point to learn from it, it certainly helps."

Now packing a Stanley Cup ring with his luggage when he comes to Ottawa, Crosby can reminisce happily about his playoff success as he starts his second 50 postseason games.

"You always think your speed and things like that will allow you still to do things and do well, but I still think experience helps, certainly in that case," he said. "We found out early on. It took us a couple games before we really settled down and got a feel for things out there."

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