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Senators back on the playoff trail

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Matt Cullen, a veteran of the Carolina Hurricanes' run to the Stanley Cup in 2006, knows what it'll take for the Senators to have some success against the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).

Twelve months ago, they'd already packed up and headed home for the summer.

But the bags that headed out of Scotiabank Place earlier this afternoon were filled with hockey equipment, bound for Pittsburgh and the opening game of the Stanley Cup playoffs. And it was an anxious group of Ottawa Senators that followed them out the door, eager for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarter-finals against the Penguins at Mellon Arena on Wednesday night (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).

For the Senators, it represents their first taste of post-season action in two years, since the Penguins swept them out of the first round of the 2008 playoffs. But this is a more confident group that feels more than ready to take on the defending Stanley Cup champions.

"It's a good feeling," centre Mike Fisher said before the Senators boarded the plane for the Steel City. "We had a good practice today and we’re looking forward to getting there tonight and getting at it tomorrow. We’re glad we don’t have to wait another day.

"We’re just getting prepared and going over things we need to do to get ourselves mentally and physically ready so we can be the best we can be."

Added fellow pivot man Jason Spezza: "It’s exciting. The last couple of days, there’s been a lot of antsyness getting ready for the playoffs. It’s an exciting time of year and it’s when you want to play. It’s nice to get started and be part of that first group of games on Wednesday instead of waiting all the way until Thursday."

The task ahead is clearly tough. With Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal all on board, among others, the Penguins possess the kind of firepower that will give Senators goaltender Brian Elliott and the blue-line corps in front of him a stern challenge.

"If you were in school, this is your (final) exams," said Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson. "It’s exciting. We’ve done a lot of work to get here and we’re prepared and we’re just going to give it everything we have."

The gang in red plans to do its level best to make it a rough ride for the defending champs.

"We're not going to sit back," said Senators head coach Cory Clouston. "We’re going to finish our checks. We’re going to be a physical team. We’re going to make sure that when they have the puck, we’re going to take their time and space away and we’re definitely going to finish our checks. We expect the same from them."

"I don’t think there’s any question that this is a hungry group here. But we understand we need to play our best hockey if we’re going to have a chance to win this series. We’re very hungry and you can feel it in the locker room, the energy and the anticipation. Guys are ready to get going." - Matt Cullen
While there are Cup rings aplenty in the Penguins dressing room, almost everyone in Senators colours still thirsts for their first. One of the three guys who already owns one — forward Alex Kovalev — is done for the season with a torn ACL in his left knee. One of the others dearly wants a shot at another one and knows what it'll take to get started in that direction.

"I don’t think there’s any question that this is a hungry group here," said centre Matt Cullen, who earned his Cup ring with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2005-06 (Ryan Shannon earned one a year later with the Anaheim Ducks). "But we understand we need to play our best hockey if we’re going to have a chance to win this series. We’re very hungry and you can feel it in the locker room, the energy and the anticipation. Guys are ready to get going."

No doubt they'd definitely like at least a split of the first two in Pittsburgh, but Cullen said it's all about Game 1 right now.

"The goal is to win the first game and we’ll take it from there," he said. "It’s one of those things where I think it’s counter-productive to even look ahead and say ‘we want to get a split or we want to win two.’ We want to win the first game and that’s all we can really think about and all we will think about."

Around the boards

With 872 total games of playoff experience, the Senators' roster ranks fourth in the National Hockey League in that area according to The Hockey News, behind only the Detroit Red Wings (1,880), the Penguins (1,122) and the New Jersey Devils (1,081). But that number obviously drops with Alex Kovalev (116), who owns the top individual total among all Senators, out of the mix ... Game 2 is Friday in Pittsburgh (7 p.m.), with the series shifting back to Scotiabank Place for Game 3 (Sunday, 6:30 p.m.) and Game 4 (Tuesday, 7 p.m.). All games are being televised by CBC and RDS, with the Team 1200 radio network offering its usual coverage as well ... Fewer than 2,500 tickets remain for each of the first two games in Ottawa.

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