- Scott Burnside, NHL
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PITTSBURGH -- In the wake of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ lopsided win in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference second-round series against the Ottawa Senators, there is the expectation that this team is not yet done winning this spring.
And if the Penguins are going to keep winning -- a victory in Game 5 on Friday night would send them to their first conference finals since winning the Stanley Cup in 2009 -- there will be the inevitable comparisons to those teams that advanced to the Stanley Cup finals in 2008 and 2009, winning the Cup on the second try.
While it might be fun for the media to ruminate, you don’t have to go far in the Penguins’ locker room to realize that the players do not view themselves through the prism of the past.
Sidney Crosby said that change is inevitable regardless of whether a team has been successful.
“I think obviously there’s a few guys still around, but we’ve definitely changed a lot. I don’t think any team year to year, whether you’ve won or whatever’s happened, I don’t think any team’s ever the same. I think there’s always differences,” said Crosby, who has been dynamic since coming back from a broken jaw, with 14 points in nine games. “There’s changing of players and identity and things like that. But, no, we’re a different team for a lot of different reasons.”
Still, it’s inevitable that people will want to connect the dots between the Penguins of 2008 and 2009 and this deep, talented team, as if to discern whether their paths were similar.
“I think that’s pretty common, but it’s not as easy as that,” Crosby said. “Because you’ve won in the past, because certain guys have been together, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee anything.
“That experience, though, is something that can’t really be taught; you have to go through it. It is definitely an added bonus, but it’s kind of up to you what you do with it.”
Forward Matt Cooke was with the Penguins team that won the 2009 Cup, but he’s not expecting that experience to have any bearing on how the team performs in the coming days.
“I think each team is completely different. Makeup is different. Lines are different. Everything’s different. You can look back on those experiences to guide you moving forward, but I don’t think it has any comparison as to what this team did ... because it’s a different makeup,” said Cooke, who is coming off a strong performance in Wednesday's 7-3 win that saw him set up a short-handed goal and draw a penalty that led to the go-ahead goal.
If there is an obvious difference between the two versions of the Penguins, it’s the startling depth the current roster boasts.
Whereas Pittsburgh used a variety of players en route to the finals in 2008 and 2009, this team is rich in NHL talent from top to bottom.
Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson referred to that depth and the team’s dangerous power play, saying after Game 4 that it wasn’t likely the Senators could win three straight games and upset the Penguins.
All of the Penguins skated Friday morning, and if coach Dan Bylsma has a full roster at his disposal, he will be forced to sit a handful of bona fide NHL players. He made a couple of roster moves before Game 4, inserting youngster Beau Bennett and veteran forward Jussi Jokinen in place of Tanner Glass and Brenden Morrow, and Pittsburgh outscored the Senators 6-1 in the final two periods -- including four goals in the first half of the third.
“I think in the playoffs, though, you don’t usually expect that,” Crosby said. “I think when you look at your team or you look at offense or anything like that, I think you’re more looking at the depth of our team. To be able to do that is, obviously, it’s great, but it doesn’t happen too often in the playoffs. It was nice we were able to, but I don’t think we expect that every period. But we have guys in here that are capable of scoring, that’s for sure.”
As if to highlight the belief that one game does not necessarily relate to or suggest the outcome of the next game, Crosby talked about watching the other playoff games Thursday night.
There are lessons to be learned, he said -- mostly that you don’t know what’s going to happen.
“I think you’re always trying to learn, but I think you realize year after year the playoffs are tough and there’s no guarantees, there’s no gimmes,” Crosby said. “You have to make sure that you’re at your best, and even when you’re at your best, that doesn’t guarantee anything.
“I think the other series are a good example of that. You see last night the Rangers hang in, find a way to win in overtime, so they’re not rolling over and quitting. So I think you can always kind of take things away from other series, but I think the thing that seems to be common every year is that there’s no real kind of guideline to how it goes. Anything can happen.”
MacLean wants more O
The Senators are tinkering with their lineup a little as coach Paul MacLean tries to coax more offense out of his squad while also trying to instill some calm to the proceedings, especially in the early going Friday.
“Obviously Mac’s probably looking for us to give us a jump,” said Spezza, who is playing his third game of the playoffs after missing most of the regular season and the first round recovering from back surgery. “Haven’t played with Alfie very consistently over the last couple of years, so it’ll be nice to play with him. We’d like to have a good game. Hopefully we can find some old chemistry and have a good night.”
Spezza played 18:40 in his first game back, which the Senators won in double overtime, and 17:48 in Game 4. He has yet to register a point.
“I think guys are excited for the challenge ahead of us,” he said. “We know that they’re going to want to try and close us out tonight, and we know we’re going to try and give our best game of the series. It’s a good opportunity for us to play a big game.”
MacLean said the coaching staff has always viewed the three veteran forwards as fall-back options because of their experience, and the expectation is for them to see lots of ice time early in the game.
Alfredsson, at the center of a controversy with his comments after Game 4, said he’s excited to play with his old linemates, but that the team needs to start better than it did in Games 1 and 2 in Pittsburgh, when the Penguins scored early in both.
Alfredsson also noted that Ottawa cannot give the Penguins, owners of the most explosive power play in the postseason, as many chances as they’ve been getting.
“We’ve got to be disciplined both with and without the puck,” he said.
Mark Stone, who played with Spezza and Michalek in Game 4 and had a number of good scoring chances, was injured in that game and did not travel to Pittsburgh. It’s expected Cory Conacher will be back in the lineup.
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