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Pens own big edge in experience over Flyers

by Alan Robinson /

PITTSBURGH -- Nearly half of the Pittsburgh Penguins not only have extensive playoff experience, but have lifted the Stanley Cup. By comparison, nearly one-quarter of those on the Philadelphia Flyers' postseason roster are rookies.

Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury, Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik, Pascal Dupuis, Jordan Staal, Tyler Kennedy, Craig Adams, Matt Cooke and Chris Kunitz all were on the team when the Penguins defeated Detroit in a seven-game Stanley Cup Final in 2009. Among them, they have hundreds of games of big-game experience.

Which raises this question: Will that experience edge be a factor in the Flyers-Penguins Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series that begins Wednesday night at Consol Energy Center?

While coach Peter Laviolette doesn't believe it's a disadvantage that the Flyers will be counting on six rookies, Orpik can't help but think back to his first playoff series in 2007.

Then, the Penguins fell behind Ottawa 2-0 in the opening minutes and went on to lose 6-3 in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series. The tone for the series was set in that game, and the Senators went on to win in five games.

A season later, the Penguins saw pictures of that series displayed in several prominent places in Scotiabank Place as the teams met again in the conference quarterfinals. Only this time, the Penguins pulled off a sweep.


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Afterward, many players explained the experience they gained the season before was a huge factor. Orpik still believes that, although he said the Penguins had additional lessons to learn about what it takes to keep winning over two spring months filled with pressure games and a lose-or-be-gone mentality.

In both 2008 and 2009, the Penguins defeated the Flyers en route to the Stanley Cup Final.

"I remember '08, we went in Detroit (for the Stanley Cup Final) and thought we could run them out of the building," Orpik said Wednesday. "Before we knew it, we were down 2-0. I think we took a lot out of that into the next year and the playoffs the next couple of years."

And what did the Penguins learn most? To Orpik, it was the necessity of skating away from confrontations and avoiding the retaliatory penalties that can turn games.

"The most frustrating thing is when teams don't retaliate and skate away and don't engage you," Orpik said. "Especially this time of the year. Nobody needs to prove how tough they are. Everybody knows each other well. I think the true test of toughness is being able to skate away from that stuff."

While the Flyers count heavily on their half-dozen rookies, the lone rookie on Pittsburgh's roster is defenseman Brian Strait, who is expected to be a healthy scratch Wednesday night.

If a rookie were to ask Orpik's opinion about adjusting from the 82-game regular season to the playoffs, the defenseman has a ready answer.

"You see a couple of younger guys on both sides where it's their first playoff game, and [they] get energized and try to make a difference right away," Orpik said. "I think the biggest thing for those guys is to try to control the energy, just be patient. If people are out looking for stuff, that's when you usually take penalties or are caught out of position, especially the physical side of the game. So just be patient play with that energy, but play smart. Play hard, play smart."

Laviolette said that is exactly how Flyers rookies Zac Rinaldo, Matt Read, Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn, Marc-Andre Bourdon, and Eric Wellwood played all season as Philadelphia went 47-28-9 and accumulated 103 points.

Laviolette, who lifted the Stanley Cup himself as Carolina coach in 2006, thinks taking part in a signature event like the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic and the much-watched HBO "24/7" series that accompanied it helped accelerate his younger players' growth and maturity.

Flyers rookies played in more than seven times as many games as Penguins rookies did this season.

"We didn't say, 'Oh, my God, it's their first playoff series,'" Laviolette said. "We didn't think that would help them. Our younger players have been used and utilized in every situation imaginable to this point. They got the opportunity to be part of HBO, to be part of the Winter Classic. And never once has there been any lack of confidence from our organization or staff or their teammates, for that matter, with their ability to play the game and contribute to our success. For me, this is not roll the dice and hope they make it through."

Laviolette so trusted Couturier that the rookie center was on the ice more against NHL scoring leader Evgeni Malkin than any other forward this season.

Read was an impact player all season with his 24 goals, 23 assists and plus-13 rating. Couturier also contributed 13 goals, 27 points and was a plus-18. Rinaldo played in 66 games, Schenn in 54, Bourdon in 45 and Wellwood in 24.

"This is their first opportunity at the playoffs, but they give us no reason to believe life will be any different than it was yesterday," Laviolette said. "They're a terrific group and we count on them for our success."

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