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Senators Face Tough Odds in Steel City

Apr 14, 2010 – 6:00 AM
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Drew Halfnight

Drew Halfnight %BloggerTitle%

When the Ottawa Senators face off against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Round 1 of the 2009-10 NHL playoffs Wednesday night, the odds will be stacked high against them.

Confirmation of this fact came from an unlikely source in Tuesday morning's papers.

"There's no question they're the favourite," Ottawa general manager Brian Murray told reporters on Monday. "They should be. When you win the Stanley Cup and you have the lineup that they have, there's no doubt in my mind, that if I was probably looking at it, and being honest and fair, that Pittsburgh would be the team that you'd pick."

This kind of talk from Murray, aimed at psyching out the opposing team and galvanizing his own for an upset, just might work.
A great deal of pre-playoff buzz is now focused on the possibility of a rally by the underdog Senators. Bloggers are swooning at the prospect of Ottawa's faithful captain Daniel Alfredsson finally hoisting the Cup after 14 seasons of service.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since the 2007 playoffs, when Ottawa eliminated Sidney Crosby's inexperienced Penguins in five games in Round 1 before advancing to the Stanley Cup finals.

The tables turned a year later when Pittsburgh swept Ottawa in the first round, and a year after that the Senators hit rock-bottom as they failed to advance to the playoffs for the first time since 1996.

But a few fresh faces, including coach Cory Clouston, defencemen Erik Karlsson and Matt Carkner, and winger Peter Regin, have helped bring the bar back up after the team's fall from grace.

To wit, Ottawa has shown signs of the old lustre of late, winning six straight in late March and early April to finish a respectable fifth in the Eastern Conference. After going 2-2 against Pittsburgh this season, an upset of the defending Cup champs is by no means out of the question.

To do so, they will need a knock-out performance by unproven netminder Brian Elliot (2.57 GAA this season), the best of leading goal-scorer Mike Fisher (25 goals), and strong defensive play from the team's quality fourth line of Chris Kelly, Chris Neil and Jarkko Ruutu.

But to believe the predictions being offered by most commentators, the Senators will need a miracle to topple the Penguins, who are stacked on offence with Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Bill Guerin and Alexei Ponikarovsky, backstopped by a Cup-winning goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (2.65 GAA), and led on defence by Sergei Gonchar, who enjoyed a superb season despite being wracked by injury and illness.

To make matters worse for the Sens, Alex Kovalev tore his ACL in a recent game against the Lightning, leaving the Sens minus one key forward for the playoffs.

The series, which will mark the third time in four years that these teams have met in Round 1 of the post-season, kicks off at Mellon Arena at 7 p.m. on Wednesday.
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