Cross Checks: Craig Adams

PITTSBURGH -- It's a bit hard to get your head around it, but the start of the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs is relatively foreign territory for the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators.

That may explain the great collective exhalation that coincided with the end of the first round for both teams.

In knocking off the New York Islanders in Game 6 on Saturday night, the Penguins -- considered by many as favorites, along with the Chicago Blackhawks, to advance to the Stanley Cup finals -- broke a two-year streak of being one-and-done in the playoffs.

The Senators, meanwhile, won their first playoff series since advancing to the 2007 Cup finals by knocking off the second-seeded Montreal Canadiens in five games.

The gap between the rounds gave both teams a chance to relish what is not an insignificant accomplishment: surviving the frenzy and chaos that always marks the first round, then looking to close the door on all that transpired in the previous two weeks and open a new door, one that will allow them to continue along the Cup path.

"The biggest thing in going from the first round to the second round, in my experience, is the first round there's 16 teams, and it's so physical and there's such an overwhelming amount of games," said Ottawa coach Paul MacLean, who has a long history as a player and assistant coach with such things. "You get to watch all of that, and there's so much physicality that I think everyone kind of gets hyped up.

"Once you get through the first round, I think everyone takes a deep breath and things quiet down a little bit more around the league, because now there's only eight teams that are playing. I think it gives the players actually a sense of relief that they got through the first round, and now it's easier to get their focus back on the task at hand."

Certainly there was a sense of relief among the Penguins, who were the second-best team in their series against the Islanders for long stretches.

"It's been a while since we got out of the first round here," Pittsburgh forward Craig Adams said Tuesday morning. "It was a relief, I'll tell you that.

"We know there's a lot of things we can do better, and now you sort of hit the reset button. [We're] playing a different team, a different kind of team that will challenge you in different ways, so it's exciting."

Brenden Morrow enjoyed his first series victory as a Penguin and the first for him since 2008, when he was captain of the Dallas Stars. He thinks that for each player the transition from one round to another means something different or is approached in a different manner.

"I think each individual takes out of it different things," Morrow said. "Some people probably take the positives from it, the overtime goals and how they played in the series previous, and some guys totally wipe it clean. So I think everyone does it a little different. But what happened in the past doesn't carry into the future, unless it's something like [team] confidence or personal confidence, or something like that."

The Senators were underdogs in the first round and will be in the second round as well. But the gap between "favorite" and "underdog" narrows appreciably as time passes in the postseason.

It is so with an Ottawa team that is considered by many a legitimate threat to unseat the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

"We were really happy with making the playoffs," said captain Daniel Alfredsson, one of three players left from the 2007 Senators team that advanced to the Stanley Cup finals. "We were really happy with moving past the first round, but we're not satisfied.

"We know we're up against a tough opponent, but we've kind of overcome odds throughout the year, and that's been our belief, that we can beat anybody."

Zack Smith is part of a core of young Senators who have been asked to take on a bigger role this season, especially with injuries to key personnel like Jason Spezza (who did not make the trip to Pittsburgh to start the series), Milan Michalek and defenseman Erik Karlsson.

Smith, 25, conceded there might have been a moment or two in the first round when some players examined the seedings or looked at the regular-season standings and wondered whether the Canadiens really were the better team. Not now.

"Once you get past that, you know you can beat teams that are supposedly better than you are or are higher in the standings," said Smith, who has 18 career playoff games to his credit. "Once you get past the first round, I think all teams kind of pick up a little bit more steam and have a little more confidence.

"And after that, I mean, it's anybody's game at that point. I think L.A. showed that last year."

If the transition from one round to the next is really about writing a different script on a different piece of parchment, the challenge is to write the story your way. That challenge will be met in part Tuesday night, when the first round will truly become a thing of the past.

"The emotion of the first round, the emotion of playoff hockey ... we've all seen it in the last 24 hours, but it's in every series," Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said, referencing the Toronto Maple Leafs' epic collapse in the third period and overtime of Game 7 of their first-round series against the Boston Bruins.

"It's now a completely different situation. Momentum's not there, there's not a carryover from game to game with a new opponent. You're not really taking anything with you from how you played or how [the previous series] unfolded, and the same applies for Ottawa in this series. They're not taking anything from Montreal with them."

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins showed up for work Wednesday morning wearing T-shirts with the No. 4 on the back, a nod to the immediate task of winning four games to get out of the first round of the playoffs.

No word on whether those same shirts will be worn Thursday with the "4" crossed out and replaced by a "3" after the Penguins whipped the New York Islanders 5-0 in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.

They’re just T-shirts, of course: some fabric and a little lettering, including the phrase, "Here We Go."

But the shirts speak to a mindset, a narrowing of the focus to the task at hand.

When you are a team as deep and talented as the Penguins -- and when there is as much discussion about a long playoff run, a possible trip to the Stanley Cup finals, another championship -- it might be easy to forget about first things first.

If you look at the big picture, if you look at what is needed to win a Cup, "It’s a bit overwhelming," Pittsburgh forward Craig Adams said after Wednesday’s game.

And if you start thinking about that, "you’ll never get there," he said.

"Everyone wanted to hand us the Cup last year, and we saw how that turned out," Adams added.

And there’s the rub.

In an interview before Wednesday’s game, Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero went to great pains to reinforce that his team was very mindful of the Islanders, even though the Pens were the top seed in the Eastern Conference and the Isles the eighth seed.

"I know this team has a great deal of respect for the Islanders," Shero said. "There’s no way we’ll be underestimating them."

Those are the kinds of sentiments that are on display when you’re coming off a 2012 playoff season that really ended before it began with the Penguins blowing a 3-0 lead against Philadelphia in Game 1 and quickly falling behind 3-0 in the series en route to a six-game loss. It was the second consecutive one-and-done playoff spring for the Penguins, and they have won just one playoff round since winning the Stanley Cup in 2009.

So you can understand if there is an emphasis on the details this time around.

"We’ve been preaching that all year," Adams said. "I think we’ve been humbled."

After one game, it would appear the message has sunk in, as the Penguins methodically took apart an inexperienced Islanders team that is playing in the postseason for the first time since 2007.

The Pens took advantage of an early power play to go up 1-0 after a terrific play by Beau Bennett, who cut in from the right side and roofed a shot over veteran netminder Evgeni Nabokov. Bennett wouldn’t be in the lineup if it weren’t for the fact that doctors declined to let captain Sidney Crosby suit up for Game 1.

Talk about taking advantage of your opportunities: Bennett scored in his first-ever playoff game.

The Penguins would add another power-play goal early in the second period by Kris Letang before Pascal Dupuis, the king of even-strength goals, added two while the teams were playing five aside. Tanner Glass rounded out the scoring with his first-ever postseason goal.

Defensively, the Pens killed off four Islander power plays and limited the Isles to 26 shots, providing netminder Marc-Andre Fleury with ample protection. Fleury, who endured a nightmare series last postseason against the Flyers, earned his sixth postseason shutout.

"Everything went great tonight," Dupuis said. "Yes, we did play the right way, but you have to keep saying to yourself it’s only 1-0."

If there was cause for concern for the Penguins, it was the loss of James Neal, who got tangled up with Travis Hamonic early in the second period and did not return. There was no information on his status for Game 2 Friday.

Also, Jussi Jokinen, who added two assists and continues to be a point machine since coming over from Carolina at the trade deadline, went off the ice gingerly after a collision with Islanders forward Marty Reasoner, who was assessed a kneeing major with 2:10 left in the game.

The Islanders, meanwhile, looked like a team whose most important players (outside Nabokov) were playing in their first playoff game. Reasoner, playing in his 24th career postseason game, was the player with the most playoff experience among Islander skaters, and he’d been a healthy scratch for the final 10 regular-season games.

John Tavares, who figures to be among the finalists for the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP, was a nonfactor, finishing the night without a shot. Likewise, Brad Boyes and Matt Moulson weren’t the players who combined for 25 regular-season goals.

Head coach Jack Capuano said the team’s work ethic and determination weren’t what they had been during the final month of the regular season, when the Isles secured an unexpected playoff berth, and the execution was lacking.

Nabokov, a player Capuano referred to as an extension of the coaching staff given his experience, was given the hook just 1:51 into the second period after the Pens made it 4-0 with two goals in 32 seconds.

Although he was beaten twice by hard, high shots courtesy of Bennett and Letang on the power play, this loss wasn’t a function of poor goaltending. Instead, this was a loss that was, pure and simple, about one team being light years ahead of another in terms of getting the job done.

"Obviously, I think it was a little bit too easy for them, for the Penguins. All-around game has to be better. Better saves, more saves. I guess it’s got to start with me," Nabokov said.

"I’ve got to make key saves at the key times and give the guys a chance to battle. But the game was over basically at the beginning of the second period, it’s four-zip, and it’s really tough to come out of it against that type of team. So [I] have to find a way to tighten up and be better," he said.

Of course, as the Pens’ T-shirts remind us, this series is not the best of one.

The Islanders have a chance to regroup, and one imagines whatever nerves and butterflies might have invaded their bodies Wednesday will have dissipated by the time Game 2 rolls around Friday night.

"I don’t think anything is easy. You have to come out, and you have to work hard. It’s got to hurt to play; I heard somebody in the locker room actually say that: It’s got to hurt to play," Nabokov said.

"I think we have to come out next game, and we have to be ready, be more physical and just make it hard on them everywhere, every inch of the ice. We have to battle for every inch of the ice, everywhere. I think that’s the only way we can play with that team because, otherwise, they’re too skilled. They’re too good."
  • Penguins star Evgeni Malkin has agreed to play with Magnitogorsk of the KHL if the NHL season is delayed by a lockout, according to a Russian report cited in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. J.P. Barry, Malkin's agent, confirmed that Malkin had spoken with teams in the KHL about playing.
  • Lightning veteran Martin St. Louis told the Tampa Bay Times that he will play in Europe if there is a lockout. "With my age, you want to keep playing," the 37-year-old told the Times on Monday. "I don't want to take a year off. If the NHL wants to shut us down, we'll go play somewhere else."
  • Meanwhile, the CBA negotiations pick back up on Tuesday, and Penguins rep Craig Adams told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he feels many of the "peripheral issues" have been resolved. A proposal by the NHL is expected Tuesday. “I don’t think you can get too emotionally involved or attached to any of these proposals or ideas,” he told the Tribune-Review.
  • The negotiations planned for Tuesday will have four men at the table, according to the Sporting News. The NHL will be represented by Gary Bettman and Bill Daly, the NHLPA by Donald Fehr and his No. 2, brother Steve Fehr.
  • As collective bargaining negotiations continue on Tuesday, Craig Adams said he remains optimistic that a deal will be worked out, according to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. An team NHLPA representative, Adams told the paper the owners are asking for "huge concessions," but that "things are moving along slowly."
  • Shane Doan spoke to Greg Jamison, potential buyer of the Phoenix Coyotes, on Saturday, but the team's captain still remains on the market, according to the Arizona Republic.
  • Predators GM David Poile told The (Nashville) City Paper that the team's salary structure has to change with the signing of Shea Weber. “I think there’s a model that we’re going to have to adopt. ... You can have maybe four really expensive players -- that seems to be the model. Maybe you can do it like a depth chart -- one goalie, one defenseman, two forwards. Maybe that’s how you can do it. If you have six guys making $7.5 million, I don’t think that’s going to work in any system,” Poile told the paper.
  • The Calgary Flames first-round pick, Mark Jankowski, decided to play for Providence College this year instead of playing junior for the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL, according to the Calgary Herald.
  • Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke spent Monday at training camp for the Super Bowl champion New York Giants, according to the Toronto Sun.

PHILADELPHIA -- An already dire situation for the Pittsburgh Penguins -- down 3-0 in their first round playoff series with the Philadelphia Flyers -- has been made even more ominous with the suspension of three regulars, including 40-goal man James Neal.

The Penguins, outscored 20-12 in the first three games of this series, will be without Neal, who was suspended for one game by league disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan after he knocked down an unsuspecting Sean Couturier with a hard check even though the puck was nowhere nearby in the third period of Sunday’s 8-4 Philadelphia win. Later in that period, Neal also went after Claude Giroux, dazing him with a hit.

The Penguins will also be without Craig Adams, who was given an automatic one-game suspension for an instigator penalty earned in a late-game fight with Scott Hartnell. Arron Asham was given a four-game ban for his crosscheck to the face and throat of Brayden Schenn, whom he then punched after the Flyers forward fell to the ice.

The suspensions of Neal and Asham inexplicably took more than 48 hours after Game 3 to become public. Ironically, the decisions were then lost in the furor over an even more disturbing case in a spring of ugliness for the National Hockey League.

In Chicago, serial predator Raffi Torres of the Phoenix Coyotes left his feet to hit Chicago forward Marian Hossa after Hossa had made a pass in the neutral zone. Hossa lay motionless on the ice and was carried off on a stretcher.

Although it’s difficult to determine just what criteria Shanahan is using in handing down supplemental discipline in a chaotic opening week of the playoffs, the outcry around the league over player behavior and the league’s ineffectiveness at changing behavior is at a fever pitch.

The mayhem has become the story of the playoffs, blotting out terrific stories like the Florida Panthers’ come-from-behind win in Game 3 and the youthful Flyers’ domination of the Pens.

At least in Neal’s case, this is a punishment that has some consequence.

One can only assume Neal will feel a pinch of remorse if he’s wearing a suit in the press box Wednesday night and his team is swept from the playoffs. Surely contributing to that embarrassing fact through his own selfish behavior by running amok, targeting defenseless Flyers players, might prompt a change in behavior.

Sadly, given the nonstop carnage of this postseason, one despairs that anyone will learn a lesson of any kind.
From the official NHL release:


NEW YORK (April 16, 2012) -- Pittsburgh Penguins forward Craig Adams has been suspended for one game and Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma has been fined $10,000 for Adams’ actions in the final five minutes of Sunday’s Eastern Conference Quarterfinal playoff game against the Flyers in Philadelphia, the National Hockey League’s Department of Player Safety announced today.

Adams instigated a fight at 15:18 of the third period. He was assessed a minor penalty for instigating, a major penalty for fighting and a game misconduct.

Both Adams’ suspension and Bylsma’s fine are automatic for violation of NHL Rule 46.12 – Instigator in Final Five Minutes of Regulation Time (or Anytime in Overtime), and as outlined by NHL Rule 46.22.

The fine money goes to the NHL Foundation.