Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Looks like same old for Pens

But Sens have D and Anderson; for Rangers, Bs, Big Mo counts

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There are analysts and pundits who, when they place themselves in the role of the Pittsburgh Penguins for the upcoming second round of the NHL's Eastern Conference playoffs, see much of the same coming.

That is, the Ottawa Senators, the Pens' second-round opponent, look a lot like the New York Islanders and that should be cause for much worry in Pittsburgh, given the Pens needed an unexpected six games, including two overtime wins, to dispatch the speedy Islanders.

We can give you that, and further agree the Senators will no doubt be every bit as pesky, probably more so, as the outmatched Islanders.

But here's the rub if you're going to debate Round 2 on that basis.

Place yourself in the skates of the Senators.

What you are about to face in the Penguins is nothing at all like the smurfy Montreal Canadiens, who were ill-equipped for either the size or style of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The Pens are those things in spades, so while Ottawa's style is certainly playoff friendly, it goes up another level from here, as most coaches like to say.

Which is why Pittsburgh has earned the position as favourites.

On the line as we progress to Round 2 are berths in the Eastern Conference final.

The war of attrition is bound to be a factor, and if the Penguins or Senators can prevail in something less than seven games, then a leg up -- a.k.a. rest -- could well be available, given the Bruins and Rangers each went the distance in a taxing Round 1 just to get to another gruelling-looking grind that will start shortly, but after the Pens and Sens.

 

Pittsburgh Penguins (1) vs. Ottawa Senators (7)

GAME 1: Tonight, 6:30, Consol Energy Center, Pittsburgh

HEAD TO HEAD: Penguins prevailed 3-0, with one game decided in a shootout.

WHY THE PENGUINS WILL WIN: Allow us to borrow a paragraph from the first-round preview, which remains relevant.

"The Pens were as dominant at home (18 wins) as on the road. They had the most regulation and overtime wins in the NHL. They did not limp into the playoffs, winning eight of the last 10, even with a rash of big-name injuries."

The regular-season difference in this series is 11 wins. That's a lot.

And there is one telling game late in the 2013 season -- April 22 in Ottawa. Pittsburgh took it 3-1. The stakes were higher for the Sens then, but Pittsburgh won, and with backup goalie Tomas Vokoun doing the job.

This internal matter is probably Pittsburgh's only area of real worry. Will it be Vokoun, who won Games 5 and 6 vs. the Islanders, or Marc Andre Fleury, who again was unstable in a first-round series.

With any goaltending, the Penguins hold a considerable depth margin at forward. They scored 25 times in six first-round games and won the power-play game handily, 7-2, using goals at key times to school the Islanders.

Ottawa may turn out to be tougher to score against, but the Penguins' depth dictates that defensive matchups will be more than challenging for the Sens.

WHY THE SENATORS WILL WIN: Well, simply put, Erik Karlsson and Craig Anderson are both back from serious injuries and were important contributors in Round 1.

And while nobody's expecting a run-and-gun series -- maybe pigs will indeed soon fly or Brendan Shanahan will actually hand out his next serious suspension -- Ottawa seemed capable of it in the first round against the Habs, scoring 20 goals in five games.

There's some wow factor in that, given the Sens had a more characteristic nine goals in their final five regular-season games.

Ottawa is the playoff team with the weakest offence this spring, but has made up for that in many respects by being a stingy defensive outfit, an element that carried the team into the playoffs despite injuries.

The Sens' cause would be bolstered immensely if somehow, centre Jason Spezza could return after back surgery. Opinion varies on how close he may be.

Spezza's contributions would be valuable, but they would also give the Sens another big body with speed to combat Pittsburgh's weapons. Otherwise, that will fall to Anderson and he may need the series of his life, given the puny Habs outshot Ottawa in all but one first-round game and the Sens faced an average of 36 shots.

Ed Tait picks: Penguins in six.

Gary Lawless picks: Penguins in six

Tim Campbell picks: Penguins in six.

 

Boston Bruins (4) vs. New York Rangers (6)

Game 1: Thursday, 6:30 p.m., TD Gardens, Boston

HEAD TO HEAD: Boston owned the only regulation victory in the season, while the Rangers prevailed in two later games, one in OT and one in a shootout, all played before Valentine's Day.

WHY THE BRUINS WILL WIN: Momentum will be their animal.

The Bruins can spring from a monster comeback in Game 7 vs. Toronto on Monday night, finding their way out of the maze the Leafs presented between Game 2 and late in Game 7.

Boston has experience, talent and size, but in the first round, its teamwork, its defence and at times its goaltending were far too average for the post-season.

The team's leaders recovered in time, however, and with the likes of Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic and David Krejci firing on all cylinders, there's good reason to believe that -- as often is the case -- a team's most marginal performance on the way to a title is in a shaky first round.

Boston's question marks in health going forward could matter. If Andrew Ference is a regular player in Round 2, as well as Dennis Seidenberg and Wade Redden, it will be better equipped for the hard-nosed games ahead.

And if Tuukka Rask can at least match Henrik Lundqvist in the Rangers net, then you'd have to feel a lot better about the Bruins' chances.

WHY THE RANGERS WILL WIN: The case is easy for momentum on the Rangers' side, too.

Winning both Games 6 and 7 in Round 1, with the seventh in convincing fashion on the road, it was clear Monday night that New York was the better team.

So a team that righted itself at the trade deadline and turned into something of a scoring machine over the final month of the regular season, a team that is playing with confidence in front of an all-star goalie in Lundqvist, a team that was hard to beat as it literally pushed its way into the playoffs, must surely have the edge in confidence now in mid-May.

Health issues could also assist New York in the next round, in particular if Ryane Clowe or Marc Staal can be players vs. Boston.

It's also a bit peculiar that at this juncture, the Rangers actually appear well-poised to take a run at the Cup, possibly better than as the top-seeded favourites last spring, a time when they appeared nervous and creaky before eventually bowing out against New Jersey.

Ed Tait picks: Bruins in seven.

Gary Lawless picks: Bruins in seven.

Tim Campbell picks: Rangers in six.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 14, 2013 D2

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