'Real good' for Sens

Antoine Vermette speaks about the Sens' first-round playoff matchup. SUN MEDIA/A.D. Wilson

Antoine Vermette speaks about the Sens' first-round playoff matchup. SUN MEDIA/A.D. Wilson

DON BRENNAN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 6:38 PM ET

One of two, new giant-sized photos plastered to the walls outside the Senators dressing room and coach's quarters for atmospheric purposes is the handshake between elated Ottawa and dejected Pittsburgh players last April 19 at Scotiabank Place.

The teams will line up for a similar ceremony in the next few weeks, and yesterday, it looked like that's just the way the Penguins wanted it.

Needing a victory to capture the Eastern Conference title, but also to set itself up for a first-round meeting with the physical Flyers, Pittsburgh sat superstar centre Sidney Crosby and lackadaisically lost 2-0 to Philadelphia.

The result paves the way for the second straight Sens-Pens first-round playoff matchup.

"I think that's real good for us," Ottawa coach and GM Bryan Murray said of facing a skillful lineup that also features Evgeni Malkin, Marian Hossa, Sergei Gonchar and Petr Sykora -- rather than a physical group like the Anaheim Ducks, who bounced the Senators in the Stanley Cup final last June.

"I think we match up better in that kind of scenario. I think it will be one of the great challenges that we've been able to face here in three years."

"They have great skill throughout their lineup," added Murray of the Penguins. "They have good depth. They've got three lines that can really play offensively, and their fourth line is a good competitive line, big strong guys ... that's why they ended up with 102 points."

So now they draw the Senators, a team that eliminated them in five last spring but limps into these playoffs without injured captain Daniel Alfredsson, Mike Fisher and Chris Kelly and having won just three of its final 10 games.

"I think we learned a lot from that," Penguins veteran (and Senators killer) Gary Roberts told TSN of last year's playoff experience.

The Senators lost the first meeting between the teams this season on Nov. 22 at SBP, when dastardly winger Jarkku Ruutu scored in a shootout. Ottawa won the next three, twice in Pittsburgh by scores of 4-1 (Dec. 13) and 4-3 in overtime (Feb. 23), and once more at The Bank, by a 5-4 count March 1.

After that loss, however, the Penguins won 11-of-16 to end the regular season.

No wonder the Senators, who finished with 94 points, are the underdogs.

"In this league, it's such a fine line, and when you do have some injured guys, it has to be factored in," said Murray.

"All I can hope for here is that we don't overplay the fact that we've got injuries.

FORGET THE PAST

"We just painted the room again, I think," Murray added, when asked if the underdog role will be used as an incentive. "But I'll mark it up with newspapers."

While winning seven of the last nine against Pittsburgh should give the Senators a confidence boost, they're not going to dwell on the past.

"Everything is wiped clean this time of year," said Jason Spezza. "We've won the President's Trophy before and lost in the second round, been an utter failure, and we've had not as successful a regular season last year as we had the previous year, and we've gone to the finals.

"Right now we haven't played our best hockey going into the playoffs, but nobody will be talking about that come June if we get things together here."

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SENATORS' FIRST-ROUND SCHEDULE

Wednesday

Ottawa at Pittsburgh, 7 p.m.

Friday

Ottawa at Pittsburgh, 7 p.m.

Monday, April 14

Pittsburgh at Ottawa, 7 p.m.

Wednesday, April 16

Pittsburgh at Ottawa, 7 p.m.

Saturday, April 19

x-Ottawa at Pittsburgh, TBD

Sunday, April 20

x-Pittsburgh at Ottawa, TBD

Tuesday, April 22

x-Ottawa at Pittsburgh, TBD

x-if necessary.


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