Tuesday, April 8, 2008
Talk between Sens, Pens heats up heading into Wednesday's opener
By Scott Burnside ESPN.com
PITTSBURGH -- Well, it's hardly the Black Sox Scandal of 1919, but thanks to Ottawa GM/coach Bryan Murray for giving us the first sidebar of the playoffs on a silver platter.
No doubt trying to deflect some of the attention away from his miserable, injury-plagued squad, Murray opened the playoff banter by suggesting the Penguins had tanked Game 82 of the regular season against Philadelphia in order to avoid a first-round matchup against the Flyers and draw his underdog Senators.
And who could blame the Pens if that was in the back of their minds given that the Senators will open this series Wednesday night without captain Daniel Alfredsson, Mike Fisher and Chris Kelly, to say nothing of their crisis of confidence in their goaltending and complete lack of team chemistry.
But as for the tanking charges, the fact that a healthy Sidney Crosby sat out the finale, coupled with a pathetic performance on the power play (0-for-8), does lend credence to conspiracy theorists and Murray wasn't the only one with a raised eyebrow.
One NHL scout told ESPN.com there was a smell of garbage emanating from the game and it didn't come from any landfill sites near the Wachovia Center. Murray told reporters in Ottawa that he knew what the Penguins were up to from the opening faceoff when he saw Crosby wasn't in the lineup.
"You guys all know -- they wanted to play Ottawa," Murray said Monday. "That's fine. It was fairly obvious from the drop of the puck."
An NHL source said the league had no quibble with either the lineup iced by the Penguins or their effort Sunday.
Asked if Murray's comments might have been additional bulletin-board fodder for the Penguins, who are out to avenge last season's first-round loss to the Senators, Pittsburgh coach Michel Therrien merely smiled.
"First of all, it's so ridiculous that I don't want to even comment," Therrien said.
The Penguins coach didn't seem surprised, though, that Murray had thrown what amounts to a red herring in the playoff waters.
"He's got a lot of experience. If he thinks that's going to motivate his team, good for him," Therrien said. "I know our team is really motivated to start the series."
Most of the players found the notion amusing.
"I really have no comment. He has an opinion, that's fine," said Gary Roberts, who returned to the Penguins lineup for the first time after breaking his leg Dec. 29. "We know that we didn't go out there to throw the hockey game. I've never put my skates on in my career where I've gone out hoping to lose or wanting to lose."
"There's stuff said all the time," Crosby said. "I don't think we're worried about it. We trust the character and pride in this room."
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.