One by one, they’ve weighed in, almost unanimous in dismissing the Ottawa Senators’ chances against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The experts’ predictions were music to Martin Lapointe’s ears.
“That’s fine with me. I like to be the underdog. It’s a great feeling,” said the veteran Senators forward, a two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Detroit Red Wings. “If we have character, we should use that and go from there.
“It’s a challenge for me. Let’s see what’s going to happen in the first round (of the playoffs). That’s all I have to say. Hockey is a game that’s played on the ice. You can say all you want. It’s easy to sit behind a desk and (make) all the predictions you want. But I think it’s great. I love it. I get fired up.”
The Senators enter the playoffs seeded seventh in the Eastern Conference, without three of their top forwards (Daniel Alfredsson
, Mike Fisher and Chris Kelly, all sidelined by injuries) and with a spotty record down the stretch. Meanwhile, many are predicting big things for Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the Penguins, the conference’s No. 2 seed.
“Listening to all the commentators, there’s no doubt that they are expected to probably go to the conference final at least,” Senators head coach/Bryan Murray said before the team headed to Pittsburgh for Wednesday’s series opener at Mellon Arena (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200). “Now they have to do it. That’s the pressure we felt a couple of years ago when we started off. We won the first series and didn’t go beyond that. You leave very disappointed after (losing) a series and for the summer, you wonder what went wrong.”
But despite their very clear underdog status, don’t think for the moment the Senators aren’t feeling a certain level of pressure themselves. This is a team that went to the Stanley Cup final just a year ago and entered this season wanting to finish that job.
“There’s always pressure on you,” said Senators centre Jason Spezza
. “For us, it’s still do or die. It doesn’t matter where you finish in the standings and what people’s expectations of you are. Our expectation is that we don’t want our season to end.”
Murray agreed, saying that’s the true test the playoffs bring to every team.
“There’s no question there’s pressure,” he said. “At playoff time, it doesn’t matter if you’re the top team or the eighth team, there’s pressure to do well. Nobody wants to not do well. Nobody wants to be embarrassed. Everybody wants to win.”
And clearly, the Senators are in this series to win it.
“We still feel we’re a very good team and if we play our game and stick to our plan, we should have a very good chance,” said forward Dany Heatley. “I think we kind of like (being the underdog). We know the city of Ottawa is behind us. We believe in each other and that’s the bottom line.”
Added defenceman Chris Phillips
: “I think we’re a confident group… We have an opportunity to go out and prove a lot of people wrong.”Stillman feeling stronger for playoff drive
Forward Cory Stillman, who missed two games late in the season because of bruised leg, feels he’s regaining his strength just in time for the post-season. “It’s feeling better,” he said after practice today. “Everyone has injuries and some are worse than others, but a couple of days off helped quite a bit on Saturday and Sunday.” Murray liked the improvement he saw today out of Stillman, a two-time Stanley Cup champion. “He’s been really hurting. He’s been playing, I think, certainly half speed at very best,” said Murray. “Today was the first day that I saw him that he really looked like he was getting his legs under him again.”