The opening round had its share of weirdness for both the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Ottawa Senators. The former was nearly pushed to the brink by the New York Islanders. The latter saw a grown man compared to a walrus by an opponent.
Now, the No. 1 and No. 7 seeds meet in the Eastern Conference semifinals, with a little playoff history between them.
Who wins this second-round battle?
Pittsburgh Penguins (1) vs. Ottawa Senators (7)
May 14: Ottawa Senators at Pittsburgh Penguins, 7:30 p.m. ET.
May 17: Ottawa Senators at Pittsburgh Penguins, 7:30 p.m. ET.
May 19: Pittsburgh Penguins at Ottawa Senators, 7:30 p.m. ET
May 22: Pittsburgh Penguins at Ottawa Senators, 7:30 p.m. ET
May 24: Ottawa Senators at Pittsburgh Penguins* 7:30 p.m. ET
May 26: Pittsburgh Penguins at Ottawa Senators* TBD
May 28: Ottawa Senators at Pittsburgh Penguins* TBD
Sidney Crosby (9 points), Pascal Dupuis (5 goals, 7 points total) and Chris Kunitz (5 points) make up the Penguins’ top line, with Crosby averaging 21:43 TOI in five games. Leading scorer Evgeni Malkin’s second line with Jarome Iginla (9 points) and James Neal (1 goal in 4 games) can be just as potent. Brandon Sutter struggled a bit in the Islanders series with linemates Brenden Morrow (1 assist) and Matt Cooke. Joe Vitale, Craig Adams and Tyler Kennedy make the most of their limited minutes.
The Senators averaged four goals per game against Montreal, second in the playoffs to the Penguins (4.17). Daniel Alfredsson (six points) led all Sens forwards, and plays on a line with Kyle Turris (5 points) and Cory Conacher (3 goals). The young guns of Mika Zibanejab and Jakob Silfverberg combine with Milan Michalek on the second line. Zack Smith, Chris Neil and Matt Kassian bring the thunder and are going to be a key energy line in this series. Colin Greening, Erik Condra (four points) and the unsung Jean-Gabriel Pageau (3 goals) fill out the forwards.
The Penguins’ Kris Letang and Paul Martin lead the team with six points. Martin and Brooks Oprik are paired, with the latter having had a strong series against the Islanders. Letang, the Pens’ ice time leader (27:46), plays with Matt Niskanen. Deryk Engelland and the surprisingly offensive Douglas Murray bring size in the Pens’ other pairing.
The Senators have six points from Erik Karlsson so far, as the offensive dynamo is paired with Marc Methot (5 points). Sergei Gonchar (23:04) and Chris Phillips (20:56) make up a pairing that was a combined plus-8 in the first round. Eric Gryba, of the brutal hit on Lars Eller, sees time with Jared Cowen.
Tomas Vokoun starts Game 1 for the Penguins after winning consecutive games to close out the Islanders. He stopped 34 of 35 shots to win his only appearance against the Sens this season. One assumes Marc-Andre Fleury will get back into these playoffs for Pittsburgh, but he may have also played himself (.891 save percentage) out of the net.
Craig Anderson was brilliant against the Habs, sporting a 1.80 GAA and a .950 save percentage. That’s after a regular season that saw him post a 1.69 GAA and a .941 save percentage. Simply put: Had he not been injured, Anderson would have probably won the Vezina this season.
Advantage : Senators
PLAYERS THAT DESERVE AN ASTERISK
We live in a world where Pascal Dupuis has as many goals as Crosby and Malkin combined. Meanwhile, raise your hand if you knew what a “Jean-Gabriel Pageau” was before he scored three goals against the Habs?
Dan Bylsma put his stones on the table with swapping out Fleury for Vokoun, and one imagines he’ll have another decision. He’s a steadying presence on the bench and a good tactician.
Paul MacLean, a.k.a. “bug-eyed fat walrus”, has become a cult icon in Ottawa and rightfully so: His personality is as captivating as his coaching, and MacLean is proving to be one hell of a head coach.
Pittsburgh’s power play (33.3 percent) was the best in the first round; Ottawa’s (24 percent) ranked fifth. The Penguins’ penalty kill (90 percent) ranked third, while the Senators’ (84.2 percent) was eighth. Overall, Pittsburgh has a more lethal special teams unit
FIGHT WE'D LIKE TO SEE
Could it be anything else? Matt Cooke vs. Chris Neil:
Penguins in 6. Expect a hard-fought series and Anderson to steal a game (or two), but this Penguins team needed a scare and got one in the first round. Now, Sid and the boys will get down to business in Round 2.