Sticking it to Sidney

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:57 AM ET

The ink was barely dry on their nice, new contracts before Anton Volchenkov and Chris Phillips went out and made Senators GM John Muckler look like a smart man.

In what was the key game-within-the-game, the Senators' shutdown duo on the blue line -- maybe the best in the league -- went out and penned in Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference quarter-final.

Getting the Phillips-Volchenkov tandem on the ice against Crosby is the priority for Senators coach Bryan Murray in this series.

With last change last night --which the Senators earned with a win on their last night of the regular season -- Murray had the luxury of being able to deploy Phillips and Volchenkov against Crosby and linemates Gary Roberts and Colby Armstrong.

For 40 minutes, the Senators pretty much made the league's leading scorer invisible and when Crosby finally did earn notice, it was for the wrong reason.

He was called for hooking late in the second period and nine seconds into the third, Ottawa's Dany Heatley scored with the man advantage to give the Senators a 4-1 lead.

Crosby looked like he might have gotten that one back just 14 seconds later, but the goal was called back when it was ruled he had kicked the puck into the net while sliding into Ottawa goaltender Ray Emery.

It was a tough call.

Crosby drove through the slot and was sliding towards the net when a rebound off a shot by Colby Armstrong caromed off Crosby's shinpad.

Crosby's only shot to that point had come during a Penguins power play when he jumped on a puck to Emery's left near the goal line, brought it out and tried to jam it in by the post.

Emery stopped that one.

For most of the night, Crosby looked like the rest of his young Penguins teammates. They looked tight. Crosby finally did score -- in the final minute of the game.

At one point, Crosby worked to get the puck in the corner during a Penguins power play, only to pass the puck to no one in the middle of the ice, the puck clearing the Ottawa zone.

The rest of the time, Murray meticulously got the Volchenkov-Phillips tandem on the ice against Crosby 5-on-5.

Murray had used a variety of combinations against the Crosby line and heading into the game, it looked like a solid two-way centre like Mike Fisher or a defensive specialist like Chris Kelly would be the matchup Murray would favour.

But as things unfolded, more often than not it was the Jason Spezza line, with Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley, that got the tap on the shoulder when Crosby was on the ice.

LIKE BRITNEY BABYSITTING

There was a time not too long ago when playing Spezza against the Art Ross Trophy winner would have been like asking Britney Spears to babysit your kids.

Odds are something would have become a distraction.

But it shows you how far Spezza has come in becoming more defensively responsible that Murray favoured that matchup as the game unfolded.

Phillips, who has a reputation for elevating his game in the post-season, was particularly physical with Crosby.

Before the game yesterday, the Senators announced they had signed Phillips, 29, to a new deal, four years for $14 million, as it turns out.

The day before, Muckler and the Volchenkov camp had agreed on a new three-year deal worth $7.5 million. That means the Senators can now count on the foundation of their defence for at least the next three years at what looks like the bargain price of less than $6 million a year.

Considering the price one top-flight defenceman is costing these days (hello, Zdeno) that looks like a good deal, indeed.

It's not looking like such good news for guys like Crosby, who are now faced with going up against the Phillips-Volchenkov tandem for the next three years, anyway.


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