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Penguins, with 2-0 lead, determined not to let up vs. Ottawa

Monday, 04.14.2008 / 7:00 PM

Associated Press

PITTSBURGH (AP) - The Pittsburgh Penguins don't want to hear about Ottawa's latest injury or the Senators' home-ice advantage or any jabbering that the two-day layoff in their Eastern Conference playoff series is taking the edge off their game.

If the Penguins players shared one thought after practicing Sunday in Pittsburgh and flying to Ottawa for Game 3 on Monday night, it was this: It doesn't matter where they play the Senators, they're intent on playing them the same.

That means pressing them offensively from the start, as they did while scoring the first seven goals of the series during Game 1 and 2 victories in Pittsburgh, and not letting the Senators feel at any time that they are in control.

As Sidney Crosby said, with the Penguins up 2-0 and in position to close it out without the demanding and punishing games that can occur late in any playoff series, why take your foot off the gas now?

"They are going to be desperate but, for us, we have to match that," Crosby said Sunday. "I think we have played with a lot of will and a lot of want the past couple of games. We just have to keep doing the same thing. ... We won the games but we deserved it and we earned it."

The Senators eliminated Pittsburgh in five games last year but, so far in this series, they haven't matched the Penguins' deep, multiple-line scoring. Evgeni Malkin has a goal and five assists, Crosby has four assists, Petr Sykora has three goals and even 41-year-old Gary Roberts, who is playing on the fourth line, has two goals.

Malkin looks more confident at center than he did playing out of position as wing on Crosby's line last year, as evidenced by his production. He assisted on the first three goals as Pittsburgh opened a 3-0 lead in Game 2 on Friday and went on to win 5-3, despite a letdown in which Ottawa rallied to tie it.

"He can make a lot happen," Crosby said. "He's a guy that makes a lot of guys around him better, too. From that position, he's able to set up guys and skate with the puck and he's carrying the puck a lot, so I think that's a natural spot for him, for sure."

The Senators, by contrast, are playing short-handed without injured captain Daniel Alfredsson (neck, knee), second-line center Mike Fisher (knee) and valuable forward Chris Kelly (right leg) and, now, regular season team scoring leader Jason Spezza has a leg injury that kept him out of practice Saturday and Sunday.

Coach Bryan Murray may not know until Monday if Spezza can play, but his absence would be a significant setback for a team that is already desperate for offense. Spezza, hurt during the final minutes of Game 2, doesn't have a point in the series and Dany Heatley has only one point.

Spezza didn't talk to reporters Sunday, but said Saturday at an optional practice that he expected to play.

If Spezza can't go - and, no doubt, he will play in such an important game if he possibly can - Alex Nikulin will slide into his place on the second line after being called up Saturday from Binghamton (AHL).

There is no sign Alfredsson will play in Ottawa, but nothing would surprise the Penguins even though Murray recently said his star would be out "for weeks." During practice Sunday, Antoine Vermette was the top-line center between Heatley and Cory Stillman.

"I haven't heard a word spoken in here about that between any of the guys. We're thinking about our team," Penguins defenseman Ryan Whitney said. "We don't want him in the lineup but, if he's going to play, we're going to play the same way."

The Penguins expect Scotiabank Place to be filled with noise and thousands of waving red flags, though it's obvious Ottawa isn't the revved-up city it was when the Senators reached the Stanley Cup finals a year ago.

A late-season slump that nearly kept Ottawa out of the playoffs and Alfredsson's injury quelled many fans' hopes for another deep playoff run. The two losses in Pittsburgh made them less optimistic still.

The Senators are hoping the two-day layoff will blunt the Penguins' momentum, though Pittsburgh coach Michel Therrien doesn't think that's a factor.

"It's not like it was a week," he said.

"We are where we wanted to be," Pittsburgh forward Marian Hossa said. "We are two games up and it won't be easy there, it will be tough, but we are a confident team. We know what it takes to win hockey games, everybody in this dressing room knows."

What the Senators are hoping is one good shift, a lucky goal and a win or two back home turns the Penguins into the hesitant, not-so-confident team Ottawa often looked to be in Pittsburgh.

"We're down 2-0 but we're going home and we're looking forward to Game 3," Stillman said. "If we win Game 3, it's a 2-1 series."

2007-2008 season series
DateScoreW. Goal
Apr 16 '08PIT 3 at OTT 1J. Ruutu
Apr 14 '08PIT 4 at OTT 1S. Crosby
Apr 11 '08OTT 3 at PIT 5R. Malone
Apr 09 '08OTT 0 at PIT 4G. Roberts
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