Many of the names and faces are the same.
But the Ottawa Senators know it’ll be a different Penguins team staring them down from across centre ice when the puck drops Wednesday night in Pittsburgh to begin their Eastern Conference first-round playoff series.
“Obviously, they’re a year better,” Senators defenceman Wade Redden said of a still-youthful Penguins team that the Senators dispatched in five games when they opened the Stanley Cup playoffs against each other in 2007. “They’ve got some young guys that had their first taste (of playoffs) last year, so they’re going to have some experience coming into it (this year).”
Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Co. will also have something else on their side this go around – the pressure of being the favourite that goes along with being a team that finished second in the conference with 102 points. The Senators wound up seventh overall but only eight points back, giving head coach/general manager Bryan Murray’s crew plenty of reason to believe they can make a series out of it – even without injured forwards Daniel Alfredsson
, Mike Fisher and Chris Kelly.
“We’re well aware that nobody is going to pick us to win this series,” said Senators centre Jason Spezza
. “There doesn’t seem to be too many people believing in us but in this dressing room, we believe we can win.
“We know it’s going to be a tough series. They’ve got a lot of weapons on their team and we’re missing a couple of guys. But we think we can put together a game plan to really compete in this series and have a chance to win it. As long as we believe in this room, we don’t really care what anybody outside thinks.”
Added forward Antoine Vermette: “They’re the favourites, they finished ahead of us and they played well. On our side, we’re missing a couple of guys and that’s fine. We still have confidence we can do some good things out there.”
Murray, too, has also heard the talk that the Senators won’t be a match for the high-flying Penguins. But he said “somehow or other, we’ll find a way to go shift to shift, match up a little bit when we can and see if we can apply some pressure at the right time of a game.”
The series opens with a pair of games in Pittsburgh – Wednesday and Friday at Mellon Arena (both 7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200) – before shifting back to Scotiabank Place for Games 3 and 4 on April 14 and 16, respectively. For a team that struggled to find its game over the final few months of the season, it’s an opportunity to start fresh, to put all the negative talk in the rear-view mirror.
“It’s like you start from scratch,” said goaltender Martin Gerber. “It’s anybody’s game and whatever you did before doesn’t really matter. What counts is right now. Everything is about the team and (making) sacrifices and a big commitment.
“We battled hard to get into the playoffs and I think everybody here is really hungry to get things started and give ourselves every chance (to win).”
Clearly, a lot will rest on how the Senators handle the Penguins’ high-octane attack. Ottawa allowed 247 goals during the season – more than any of the 16 playoff qualifiers – and Murray knows that has to change during this series.
“We’ve got to play our best, best hockey of the year, without a question, and find a way to compete each and every game and each and every shift,” he said. “If we do that, then we can make it really interesting. If we don’t, they’ll score some goals on us.
“We know, in this type of series, there are going to be scoring chances. We just have to find a way to limit them as best as we can and make it hard for them to compete every shift against us.”