The playoff series that intrigues me the most is without question the Ottawa Senators and Pittsburgh Penguins who will be meeting for the third time in the past four springs.
Even though I am a big Toronto Maple Leafs fan I’ll be doing the unthinkable and that’s rooting for the Senators to not only beat the defending Stanley Cup champions from Pittsburgh but to also go all the way. The main reason why I would like to see them hoisting the Stanley Cup in June is because I would like to finally see Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson win a cup before calling it a career. This 37 year-old who is now in the back nine of his stellar career has been with the Senators for 14 seasons and during that time endured some pretty bleak seasons without complaining or asking to be traded. He has now played over 1,000 games in an Ottawa uniform and has accumulated 992 points but to make his career complete I feel like he deserves to experience that euphoria of lifting the Stanley Cup over his head.
Realistically and I hate to say this I don’t like their chances of getting past Pittsburgh in the opening round. Things were pretty even in the regular season as both teams won two games out of the four but that was with Ottawa having sniper Alex Kovalev in the line-up. The Sens playoff quest took a huge blow in early April when the veteran who scored 18 goals and 49 points this season tore his ACL in Tampa against the Lightning.
Heading into the first round Ottawa who beat Pittsburgh back in 2007 Playoffs have to feel pretty good about their chances as they have been 7-2-1 in their past 10 games which vaulted them into a fifth place finish in the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile the Penguins have been inconsistent down the stretch in winning only five of their last 10 games. A huge reason for the inconsistency was that the Pens didn’t have last year’s Art Ross Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin in the line-up along with veteran defenceman Sergei Gonchar down the stretch. Malkin who scored 77 points in 67 games is finally healthy after missing time with a foot injury. On the back end Gonchar who quarterbacks the power play and scored 50 points is also healthy after missing time due to illness.
A huge question mark for Ottawa will be their goaltending. Brian Elliot who registered a 2.57 GAA has never played a playoff series and will be under a lot of pressure facing a potent Penguins offence led by the likes of Sidney Crosby (51 goals 109 points), Malkin, Jordan Staal (21 goals) and Bill Guerin (21 goals).
Even though the Sens can’t match Pittsburgh in the scoring department they do have the edge when it comes to fourth line talent. Ottawa has one of the best fourth lines in the league with Chris Kelly (32 points), Chris Neil (22 points) and Jarkko Ruutu (26 points) who will have the assignment of shutting down the Crosby line. On defence Ottawa will be using their number one shut down guy in Anton Volchenkov to pay special attention to Crosby and Malkin. Other shutdown defenceman who will have to be at their best are veterans Chris Phillips and Andy Sutton.
Besides for stellar goaltending and effective checking the third factor in Ottawa getting to the second round is their ability to win on the road. This past season they went 18-21-2 in hostile territory which must be worrisome to Ottawa fans since they are starting the series in Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh also has more experience than Ottawa when it comes to Stanley Cup experience. While Ottawa only has three players with Stanley Cup rings in Kovalev, Matt Cullen and Ryan Shannon the Penguins have 19 players with rings.
Prediction: Pittsburgh’s explosive offensive will prove too much for the Senators. Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has registered a 2.01 GAA and a .930 save percentage over the past two games and seems to be in top form heading into playoffs. Goaltending is the most important position in hockey and Fleury is a better bet than Elliott.
As much as I would like to see Alfredsson lift that cup realistically I believe the Penguins will beat Ottawa in six games.