As the Senators prepared to meet the Pittsburgh Penguins in the opening round of the Eastern Conference post-season beginning Wednesday, Murray’s first order of business was to address the “choking dog” brush – his words – that he’s sick of seeing his team painted with.
“I think it’s bullshit,” Murray snorted following the team’s practice.
While it’s the 10th straight season the Senators have qualified for the playoffs, they’ve advanced beyond the second round just once in their history.
And against a Penguins team that features some of the NHL’s brightest young talents, including league scoring champ Sidney Crosby, they’re once again dealing with the same old questions over whether they’ll be able to translate another strong regular season into playoff success. It’s those questions that Murray takes issue with.
“I don’t understand the comments at all,” continued Murray, who admitted he’d grown frustrated by the discussion. “I don’t know how many times Ottawa was supposed to win the Stanley Cup.”
Pittsburgh, meanwhile, is making its first playoff appearance since 2000-01 and 15 members of the Penguins will make their first post-season debuts when the series opens at Scotiabank Place on Wednesday night (7 p.m. ET).
Rather than silencing the naysayers, the Senators are more concerned with a hungry Pittsburgh team in a matchup that features two of the NHL’s highest-scoring teams featuring some of the league’s marquee names.
“The only way to silence that (criticism) is to go and have a great playoff, but that’s not our motivation here, to silence critics,” Phillips said.
Because of the Senators’ playoff experience, Crosby conceded Ottawa is the favourite. The Penguins, however, are also trying to use their lack of experience to their advantage.
They don’t know any better than to be fearless, he said during a conference call with reporters later Monday.
“You can’t make up for the experience unless you’ve gone through it,” he said. “I don’t have a sense of being nervous because of that.
“If we don’t have the experience, we’re going to try and make up for it with our energy and our attitude.”
It should make for an entertaining matchup.
After a slow start, Ottawa caught fire and has been among the league’s best teams in the second half.
The Senators finished the regular season second in the Northeast Division and fourth in the conference with a 48-25-9 record. Their 288 goals-for ranked second in the NHL, trailing only Buffalo’s 308.
The Penguins, meanwhile, were third with 277 goals as they finished runners-up to New Jersey in the Atlantic Division to grab fifth in the conference with a 47-24-11 mark.
Their 105 points were 47 more than they achieved a year earlier.
“The young guys that we have really put the pressure on themselves to learn quickly (and) our veterans – (Mark) Recchi, (Sergei) Gonchar and (Gary) Roberts – have really stepped up and led the way,” Crosby said.
Crosby, who finished the season with 120 points to become the NHL’s youngest all-time scoring leader, is bound to draw the most attention, on and off the ice, but the Penguins have other high-flying youngsters like Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal to watch.
“There’s no doubt they’ve got some dangerous guys that if you give time and space, they’ll take advantage of it,” Senators goaltender Ray Emery said.
“Guys like Crosby and Malkin, you’ve got to key on.
“(Crosby)’s not so much a shooter as a set-up guy. You’ve got to be aware of guys like that.”
The Senators did a relatively good job of containing Crosby during the regular season. Although Pittsburgh won the season series 3-1 – twice earning the victory via shootout – Crosby recorded a goal and three assists in the four games, plus another goal in shootout.
Crosby can expect to see plenty of the Senators’ defensive pairing of Phillips and Anton Volchenkov, whom Ottawa re-signed Monday to a three-year contract extension.
“He’s a talented player – 120 points in the regular season,” Phillips said of Crosby. “We’ll have our work cut out for us, but it’s a fun challenge.
“It’s not just shutting him down when he’s got the puck.”
More than half of Crosby’s points (61) came with the Penguins on the power play, where they ranked fifth in the league.
The Senators, meanwhile, are no slouches up front, either.
Ottawa’s top line of Dany Heatley, who this year become the first player to record back-to-back 50-goal seasons since Pavel Bure in 1999-2000 and 2000-01, Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson alone will be out to make life rough for Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who showed strong flashes in the season but is untested in the playoffs.
“Both teams have similar offence where we can score and they’re a pretty defensive-minded team, too,” Senators centre Mike Fisher said. “It’s a tight battle. We’ve been neck and neck with them all year, so it’s going to make for an interesting series.”