|Veteran defenceman Chris Phillips says the Senators have to make the most of every opportunity they get to make a run at the Stanley Cup (Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images). |
One more time, it's the Ottawa Senators and Pittsburgh Penguins facing off in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
But while the winner of the two previous meetings used the series as a springboard toward a trip to the Cup final — the Senators in 2007, the Penguins a year later — this time Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Co. enter the matchup with championship rings already in hand.
All of which makes the defending champs just about everybody's pick to advance again.
Even Senators general manager Bryan Murray found himself admitting as much earlier today at Scotiabank Place, as he watched his team begin preparations for Game 1 of the best-of-seven affair, which goes Wednesday night at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).
"There’s no pressure on us at all, because nobody expects anything out of us," said Murray. "That’s a good thing, I think. There’s no question (the Penguins) are the favourite and they should be. When you win the Stanley Cup, when you have the lineup that they have … there’s no doubt in my mind that if I was looking at it and being honest and fair, I’d probably say Pittsburgh would be the team I would pick.
"So if there’s abnormal pressure … they’re expected to win, put it that way. But we’re expecting a lot from ourselves, too."
Make no mistake about it. The Senators, who are back in the playoffs after a one-year hiatus, are anything but just happy to be here. As head coach Cory Clouston puts it, this is a team that feels it can "do some damage" in the post-season.
"We know they’re the team to beat," said Clouston. "We know that the oddsmakers, I’m sure, have them (favoured). But we still have to have a belief in ourselves and that’s how we’re looking at it, whether they’re the defending Stanley Cup champions or not. We knew we were eventually going to have to go through them and it happens to be in the first round.
"We respect them, we know how good they are and we know their strengths and weaknesses. But it still has to be played on the ice and it’s still a seven-game series. We’re excited to get going here."
Added centre Jason Spezza
: "It's a big task, but I think we're up for it. We beat them the first time, they beat us (the second) and they're the defending champs. Any time you face the defending champs, you've got to be ready and we're excited about it."
There is surely reason for the Senators to believe they've got a shot in this one. The teams split their four-game season series, with each team winning once in the other's building. With a 44-32-6 final record, Ottawa finished just seven points behind the Penguins (47-28-7) in the final standings.
"We know they’re the team to beat. We know that the oddsmakers, I’m sure, have them (favoured). But we still have to have a belief in ourselves and that’s how we’re looking at it, whether they’re the defending Stanley Cup champions or not. We knew we were eventually going to have to go through them and it happens to be in the first round. We respect them, we know how good they are and we know their strengths and weaknesses. But it still has to be played on the ice and it’s still a seven-game series. We’re excited to get going here." - Cory Clouston
With a 7-2-1 record in their final 10 games — and with the losses coming in meaningless games after a playoff berth had been clinched — the Senators also happen to be right in the middle of a solid stretch of hockey in a season which has produced streaks both good and bad.
"I have a good feeling about our game," said captain Daniel Alfredsson
. "I know we’re up against a tough challenge but at the same time, it’s a fun challenge for us ... (The Penguins) have gone far in the playoffs twice lately and there’s reason for that. They’re probably the favourites. Do we think we have a chance? Obviously, we do. It’s going to be a fun series.
"We’re going to have our hands full right away, which we like. It’s going to hopefully bring the best out of us. It’s just exciting to compete at this time of the year. We’re playing the best teams in the world on the big stage and it’s exciting."
After seeing their 11-year run of post-season participation ended last season, it's also appreciated perhaps more than ever.
"It’s why we play the game," said veteran defenceman Chris Phillips
. "That’s what it’s all about. It’s 82 exhibition games to try to get here and give ourselves a chance to win the Stanley Cup. You go to every player that’s in the playoffs, that’s what their goal is right now. Whether you’re a favourite or an underdog, it’s nobody’s goal to just make it a long series or win one series.
"You never know when the chance is going to come again to have a shot at it. Now I’ve been in the playoffs every year but one and I haven’t won a Stanley Cup yet. You think those opportunities are going to keep coming but the years tick by. You’ve got to try to take advantage of it every time you’re in there."Around the boards
CBC's Hockey Night in Canada
has television coverage of the entire Senators-Penguins series and all telecasts will be available in high-definition format. Play-by-play voice Bob Cole and analyst Garry Galley have been assigned to the series along with Glenn Healy (between the benches analyst) and rinkside reporter Elliotte Friedman ... Fewer than 2,500 tickets remain for each of the Senators' first two home playoff games, slated for Sunday at 6:30 p.m. and next Tuesday at 7 p.m.