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No. 2 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No. 7 Ottawa Senators

by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins
SERIES BREAKDOWN:

Schedule | X Factors | Facts | Crystal BallSenators Journey | Penguins Journey | Game Breakers | Storylines

THE SKINNY

This time, the skate rests squarely on the other foot.

Last spring, the Ottawa Senators were the big, bad bully welcoming the new kids on the block, the Pittsburgh Penguins, to the postseason party. Five mostly one-sided games later, the Sens were one step closer to an eventual Eastern Conference title and the Pens were left wondering what went wrong.

Pittsburgh went 1-2-1 against Ottawa this season, but the Penguins are 11-4-1 since their last game against the Senators, who went 6-8-2 down the stretch.
Penguins-Senators highlights
The same two teams meet this spring in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, only this time it is the group from Ottawa that enters as the underdog, questioning its very right to be in the postseason. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, struts into the tournament as the Atlantic Division champion and a favorite to advance out of the East.  

What a difference a year can make, eh? Actually, it is just a few months.

As the New Year approached, Ottawa virtually was unbeatable and set comfortably atop the conference standings. Today, the train has come off the rails, with coach John Paddock paying with his job, and the Sens have free-fallen to seventh place. Since, Feb 2, Ottawa is just 11-15-4.

"Mentally, with the injury, it was good and bad. I had two months (off). It was awful. But at the same time I think I'm as hungry as I could be." - Sidney Crosby, discussing his high ankle sprain
Pittsburgh, meanwhile, is 19-8-4 during that same stretch, catching fire despite the fact that Sidney Crosby and No. 1 goalie Marc-Andre Fleury were out for extended periods with ankle injuries.

Other players stepped up for coach Michel Therrien and guided the Penguins through the make-or-break portion of the schedule. Ty Conklin performed like a franchise goalie in Fleury’s absence and Evgeni Malkin stepped out from Crosby’s shadow to make a case for the League’s MVP award by scoring 106 points.

With as many struggles as the Senators have faced, they still are a dangerous team, a team that represented the East in last year’s Stanley Cup Final.

This time around, though, it will be Martin Gerber in the crease, not Ray Emery, who has fallen far out of favor. Gerber has had an up-and-down season, explaining some of the team’s struggles.

"It's a fresh start for every team. All eight teams on each side. There's only going to be 16 teams left with a shot and you want to make sure you're part of that group.” - Chris Neil, dismissing Ottawa’s late-season woes.
Ottawa still has the top trio of Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson – although Alfredsson will start this series on the injury shelf. There is no definitive timetable for his return.

Regardless, the Sens better find some answers quick or they could be the ones shaking their heads this time around, a result the Penguins would love to deliver.

CRYSTAL BALL

Pittsburgh will win if -- It takes advantage of home ice. Not only will Mellon Arena be rocking for this series, but the fact that Pittsburgh is the home team for four games provides tactical advantages the Pens must exploit. One of the biggest will be getting away from Ottawa’s great checking line and getting favorable matchups though the power of last change. 

Ottawa will win if -- It finds a way to travel back in time. These Sens are not much different, personnel-wise, than the team that opened the season as an unbeatable. Heck, they aren’t even all that different than the team that ran roughshod through the Eastern Conference playoff field last spring. Ottawa just has to find a way to recapture that confidence and it will be ready to give the Penguins all they can handle.




 
SERIES SCHEDULE
Game 1:  April 9 @ Pittsburgh
7 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RDS, FSN Pittsburgh
Game 2:  April 11 @ Pittsburgh
7 p.m. ET, CBC, RDS, FSN Pittsburgh
Game 3:  April 14 @ Ottawa
7 p.m. ET, CBC, RDS, FSN Pittsburgh
Game 4:  April 16 @ Ottawa
7 p.m. ET, CBC, RDS, FSN Pittsburgh
*Game 5:  April 19 @ Pittsburgh
TBD, VERSUS, CBC, RDS, FSN Pittsburgh
*Game 6:  April 20 @ Ottawa
TBD, CBC, RDS, FSN Pittsburgh
*Game 7:  April 22 @ Pittsburgh
TBD, CBC, RDS, FSN Pittsburgh
* if necessary. All Penguins games in the first round will be televised locally by FSN Pittsburgh.  Game 1 will be broadcast in HD on FSN Pittsburgh on the following channels for various cable systems – Comcast 226/769, Armstrong 179, Citizen 737, DISH 428, DirecTV 628-1, and Atlantic Broadband 782.
 
FAST FACTS
* The Penguins won their first division crown since the 1998 Northeast Division title, ending a 12-year stranglehold on the Atlantic crown enjoyed by the Devils and Flyers.

Gonchar
* Defenseman Sergei Gonchar, who has 15 goals and 40 points in 63 playoff games, has advanced past the first round of the playoffs just once in eight tries.

* Center Sidney Crosby scored two goals and added three assists for five points in the Penguins’ five-game loss to the Ottawa Senators last season.

* After getting just two points in his first six playoff games, Ottawa center Jason Spezza has 12 goals and 36 points in his past 30 postseason games. He had just two assists, though, in last year’s Final.

* Senators defenseman Mike Commodore, who won the Cup with Carolina in 2006, has been to the Stanley Cup Final both times he has appeared in the playoffs. He represented Calgary in 2005. 
 
X FACTORS
Hossa
Marian Hossa – When the Penguins snagged this scoring star from Atlanta on trade-deadline day, teams around the League feared a Crosby-Hossa pairing. Due to injuries to both players, it hasn’t happened yet. Both are healthy now, though, and Crosby will be feeding this sniper passes. If Hossa converts, watch out!

Gerber
Martin Gerber – Coach Bryan Murray handed Gerber the goaltending reins heading into the playoffs. Now he has to hope Gerber can handle it. Gerber has a limited postseason resume, but he’ll have to be the man with Ray Emery and his wagon-load of issues a likely non-factor. 
 
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