OTTAWA – The Ottawa Senators have proven they can get results as an underdog. They have overcome long odds this season and are coming off an impressive series victory over Montreal.
The next challenge is a big one but the Senators are ready and loaded with confidence.
Ottawa will face the top-seeded Penguins in the Eastern Conference semifinal beginning Tuesday night in Pittsburgh. The Senators, who knocked off the second-seeded Canadiens in five games, will need a strong team effort and solid goaltending to compete with the Atlantic Division champions.
“I’m sure everyone’s writing us off to lose this round, I’m assuming,” said Marc Methot. “It’s an opportunity for us to prove a lot of people wrong and see if we can create an upset.”
Pittsburgh is loaded with star players but the one area the Senators may have an advantage is in goal. Craig Anderson was clearly the difference for Ottawa in the first round and he’ll be counted on again against the Pens.
The Senators have also displayed an offensive spark of late along with a willingness to get physical.
“Once you’re here you don’t think anything is impossible and we believe that,”said Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson.“We think we can give a Pittsburgh team a tough run and even win this series. We also respect them and their abilities and what they’ve shown this year and it’s going to take an effort from everybody to have a chance.”
Star forwards Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jarome Iginla lead a deep Pittsburgh lineup that’s coming off a six-game win over the New York Islanders. The Senators will need to contain that explosive offence if they have any hope of keeping the series close.
“With their skill we can’t give them too many odd-man rushes or it’s not going to be pretty,” Alfredsson said. “We expect to play the same way, (a) pretty straight-forward, physical game, but at the same time stay out of the (penalty) box.”
The Senators wore down a number of Montreal’s forwards with their physical play and will be looking for a repeat performance.
“People need to know that when you’re playing against great players it’s not always easy to be physical against them,”said Methot.“They’re good for a reason and don’t put themselves in vulnerable positions where they’ll take big hits. It’s going to be tough.”
Methot, who faced Crosby in the 2005 Memorial Cup, said the Pittsburgh star is always intelligent on the ice.
“He’s really efficient and doesn’t put himself in a lot of vulnerable positions,” Methot said. “He’s got a short stick so it’s hard to pokecheck the puck off of him and he thrives off the down low plays. We have to play him real hard and smart.”
The Senators cannot afford to give the Penguins many opportunities with the man advantage. Pittsburgh has the best power play of all playoff teams with a success rate of 33.3 per cent.
“We know specialty teams is a big part of their game,”said Alfredsson.“They’re strong five on five, but their penalty killing is good and their power play is among the best in the league so it lets us know that we have to be smart.”
Anderson’s strong performance against the Habs has given the Senators confidence that they can afford to take risks and not worry that every turnover or mistake will come back to haunt them.
“It frees you up a little bit, you’re not quite as tight and tentative when games start and when the pressure’s on if you know your goaltender can make some saves for you,”said Senators coach Paul MacLean.“It can help loosen you up sooner than maybe the team that doesn’t think their goalie can.”
MacLean strongly believes goaltending“has to be the No. 1 pillar you have to have if you’re going to have any success.”
Anderson will face a former teammate and friend in the opposing net. Anderson and Tomas Vokoun used to form the goaltending tandem in Florida and remain close, but the Senators netminder said friendships have to be put aside in the playoffs.
“It’s fun when you play against guys you know,”said Anderson.“It makes the rivalry that much more challenging and fun.”
This will be the fourth time the two teams have met in the post-season. The Penguins have a 2-1 edge in series wins, the most recent coming in 2010 when Pittsburgh beat Ottawa in six games.
“We have some rivalry with them because we played them quite a few times in the playoffs in the last six years,”said Alfredsson.“We know each other pretty good. I think we have a different team than we did in previous years against them. They had some changes, but their core group has been together for a while and they have some experience.”
Notes: Jason Spezza will not travel with the team to Pittsburgh on Monday as MacLean prefers he stay behind and skate with AHL coach Luke Richardson and the team’s additional players. He didn’t completely rule out Spezza for Game 2.