Change of Perspective

Sidney Crosby was certain he knew all about the effort, energy and commitment required to win 16 NHL playoff games over four demanding series and two long months.

A few minutes in Ottawa last April totally changed his perspective.

``It felt like they had eight guys out there,'' the Penguins star said of his NHL postseason debut, a 6-3 loss in which Pittsburgh trailed 2-0 after less than seven minutes. ``It was one of those things where we were just watching and trying to feel it out. They weren't. They were taking the play to us.''

The Penguins, few of whom had any playoff experience, went on to lose the series in five games. It was an eye-opening experience for a team that had undergone a major in-season turnaround, and it taught them that hockey in April and May is much different than in March.

Oddsmakers from have made Pittsburgh -194 money line favorites (NHL Odds) for today's game, the over/under has been set at 5.5 goals (Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 59% of bets for this game have been placed on Pittsburgh -194 (View NHL Bet Percentages).

The Penguins again find themselves matched against the Senators in a first-round Eastern Conference series that starts Wednesday night in Pittsburgh, but under much different circumstances than last year.

This time, the Penguins are on a roll and are heavily favored after nearly winning the Eastern Conference regular season title, while the Senators remain stuck in a downward spiral that nearly ruined a promising season. They were leading the conference in late February, but the defending conference champions are seeded only No. 7 after going 11-15-4 in their final 30 games.

With all the accompanying doom and gloom in Canada's capital, the Penguins weren't all that surprised when Senators coach Bryan Murray accused them of dumping their season-ending game against Philadelphia on Sunday to gain what appears to be a favorable matchup with his team.

``I knew what was going on,'' Murray said. ``That's fine. They wanted to play Ottawa. It was fairly obvious from the drop of the puck.''

Penguins coach Michel Therrien understands Murray was relying on a timeworn motivational ploy, but the accusation clearly angered him.

``It's so ridiculous that I don't even want to comment on it,'' Therrien said Tuesday.

``I've never heard of such a thing as a hockey team losing on purpose,'' Penguins forward Jarkko Ruutu said. ``With home ice for the rest of the Eastern Conference playoffs, why would we try to do that?''

Murray's comment suggests the Senators are looking for any trick to turn themselves around after the momentum from a record-setting 13-1 start dissolved, former coach John Paddock was fired and they nearly missed the playoffs for the first time in 11 years.

Even worse for the Senators, they figure to be without their most dynamic player, captain Daniel Alfredsson, for the series. A violent hit by Toronto's Mark Bell on Thursday left him with a sore knee and an unspecified upper body injury. Alfredsson denies he has a concussion.

``But they're still dangerous,'' Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. ``They have so many skilled guys.''

Fleury's inexperience was one of the Penguins' glaring weaknesses a year ago, but it isn't in this series. He and Senators goalie Martin Gerber own the same number of career playoff wins - one - and Fleury was exceptional down the stretch, going 10-2-1 after returning from a three-month layoff with a high ankle sprain.

Crosby said his own such injury - he missed 28 of 31 games from Jan. 18 until March 27 - is no longer an issue, even though he was held out of Sunday's game.

Crosby understands his ankle might sustain a well-placed whack or two during the series, but he is prepared for it.

``It's my LEFT ankle,'' Crosby said, lying, albeit with a big smile. ``It wouldn't be the first time something like that happened. Teams read injury reports and ... if a guy's got a bad shoulder, I'm sure you're not going to ease up on him and not hit him. Whether or not they'll deliberately do it, who knows, but that's why the refs are out there, to police the game.''

Adding former All-Star Marian Hossa to Crosby's line gives the Penguins an added dimension they lacked last year and, for the first time in months, they are healthy. Forward Gary Roberts, a longtime Ottawa playoff antagonist, returned Sunday after being out since Dec. 29 with a broken leg.

Of course, there's also this statistic: The No. 7-seeded Eastern Conference team has won six of the last 10 series against No. 2.

If the Senators have any edge, it's that they're not favored in the playoffs. Forward Jason Spezza hopes that will prove motivational to a team that is accustomed to unexpectedly early playoff ousters.

``I don't see a lot of people that believe in us,'' he said.

The Penguins learned last spring what a flat Game 1 can mean, and Crosby thinks it is a significant advantage that Games 1, 2 and, if, necessary, 5 and 7 would be in Pittsburgh. The Penguins are 19-2-3 in their last 24 games at Mellon Arena.

``It's important to start well. You want to get momentum early,'' Crosby said.

Here are some top trends for tonight's matchup:

-OTTAWA is 43-39 ATS (-21.4 Units) in all games this season.

-PITTSBURGH is 47-35 ATS (+0.8 Units) in all games this season.

by: Staff Writers - Email Us

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