Familiar foes Ottawa, Pittsburgh offer contrasts

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 13, 2013 at 5:18 pm •  Published: May 13, 2013
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Ottawa owner Eugene Melnyk labeled Cooke "a goon" after Cooke's skate slashed the Achilles tendon of Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson on Feb. 13. Though initially ruled out for the rest of the season, Karlsson returned 10 weeks later and collected a goal and five assists in Ottawa's five-game romp over Montreal in the opening round of the playoffs.

Cooke insists the slash was an accident brought on by two players mucking in the corner for the puck and hasn't given it much thought over the last three months. The team's last meeting — a 3-1 Pittsburgh win on April 22 — passed without incident. While maintaining his innocence, Cooke has no problem if the Senators search for retribution sometime over the next two weeks.

"I've always approached the games that if teams are thinking about me and worrying about me, they're not focusing on what they have to do," Cooke said.

Ottawa center Zack Smith allowed the incident is "still on people's minds" but is not a focal point for a team trying to reach the conference finals for the third time in franchise history.

"We'll be aware of when he's on the ice as we know what he has done in his past," Smith said. "So you just have to be aware when he's finishing his checks."

Something few teams in the NHL do better than the Senators. Ottawa's disciplined attack is built on being physical in front of its own net and counterpunching. The Senators allowed just 104 goals all season — the second-lowest total in the league — and surrendered just nine in five games against the Canadiens.

Ottawa's success comes from understanding what it can and cannot do. The Senators try to frustrate opponents by taking away space in their zone and rely heavily on defensemen like Karlsson and Sergei Gonchar to quarterback the offense from the blue line.

That can leave a very thin margin for error. The Senators had a plus-12 goal differential this season, compared to Pittsburgh's plus-46. If Ottawa tries to make Pittsburgh's dynamic playmaking, the series could be over quickly.

"If we start getting off the same page and doing our own thing they'll start to burn you," Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson said. "But if we stick together and stay on the same system and play on the same page we should be able to limit the number of opportunities we give up."

It might be the only way to hang with the Penguins now that they're unshackled from the pressure of getting out of the first round.

"We started with 30 (teams) then 16 and now we're down to eight," Bylsma said. "And now we're moving on focusing on winning the next four."

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Follow Will Graves at www.twitter.com/WillGravesAP



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