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Playoff pressure? Penguins say that the Senators' burden, not theirs

NHL.com @NHL

PITTSBURGH (AP) -Very few of the Pittsburgh Penguins have enjoyed more than a cursory exposure to the Stanley Cup playoffs. In their first-round series against the Ottawa Senators that starts Wednesday, that may be to the Penguins' advantage.

Having no experience might be preferable to having the repeated bad experiences the Senators do when one poor performance, one unchecked skater, one poor goal allowed can undo a season's worth of work by an entire team.

The Senators, who have never met Pittsburgh in the postseason, are in the playoffs for a 10th consecutive season yet have still not reached the Stanley Cup finals. They have been frustrated by a long string of postseason disappointments, including those in the 2001, 2002 and 2004 playoffs against the rival Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Maple Leafs were eliminated from these playoffs last weekend, yet some Penguins wondered Monday if all those past playoff failures have been erased from the Senators' minds.

Last season, the Senators owned the Eastern Conference's best regular-season record, yet fourth-seeded Buffalo needed only five games to eliminate them in the second round.

"For sure, they've got a lot of pressure," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. "For unknown reasons, Ottawa just puts great hockey teams on the ice - great hockey teams - and they go to the playoffs with huge expectations from the media, from fans, from coaches, and ownership but, for unknown reasons, they've had bad luck so far. You need some luck, you need some breaks when you go to the playoffs."

The Senators own home-ice advantage against Pittsburgh, though that didn't give them an edge during the season when Pittsburgh won both games in Ottawa. The Penguins won there only last week, a 3-2 decision on Thursday that forced the Senators to beat Boston 6-3 on Saturday to gain the home-ice edge in the No. 4 vs. No. 5 first-round series.

"I don't think we are intimidated," NHL scoring champion Sidney Crosby said. "Once we get started, I'm sure we will be OK. Not all of us have been in the NHL playoffs, but most of us have been in situations where it's a grind. We've been in different leagues and been in the playoffs. We know there's pressure and emotion."

If the Penguins win once in Ottawa, they are convinced the pressure will be on the Senators again. While 15 of the 25 Penguins players haven't played in the postseason, playoff-tested players such as Gary Roberts and Mark Recchi have considerable experience.

"I think we got some guys here that can show all the guys in here what it's like," goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said.

To Therrien, the Penguins are well prepared to handle the trappings and the tension of the playoffs after gaining so much attention leaguewide during their turnaround season - they won 47 games this season, compared to 22 a season ago.

With players such as Crosby and rookie of the year favorite Evgeni Malkin, they also are a team accustomed to getting lots of media and fan attention.

"I don't think my players feel any extra pressure," Therrien said. "We're playing against a team that feels a lot of pressure. Ottawa's been a team that always has pressure to win the Stanley Cup. We're probably going to be there in a few years, feeling that type of pressure, but right now our team has a lot of fun together. There's great chemistry, but pressure? We don't feel any pressure."

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