Senators ready to play underdog role Staff

4/8/2008 5:30:28 PM

One year after going to the Stanley Cup final, the Ottawa Senators are ready to play the underdog role.

The sixth-seeded Senators are preparing for their first round match-up with Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins which gets under way Wednesday at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh.

It's a match-up that Senators' head coach Bryan Murray says the Penguins wanted all along.

The Penguins had a chance to win the top seed in the Eastern Conference with a win over the rival Philadelphia Flyers in the regular season finale. That would have set up a first round match-up with the rough and tumble Flyers.

But the Penguins decided to rest Crosby and lost the game, setting up a series with the struggling, injury-riddled Senators.

"We knew what was going on. They wanted to play Ottawa," Murray said on Monday. "That was fairly obvious from the drop of the puck."

And Murray thinks he knows why the Penguins wanted no part of series with the rough-and-tumble Flyers.

"The physical nature of the game last Wednesday against the Flyers was the first thing that I thought of," Murray said. "And in a seven-game series, if you don't like the physical way that the Flyers played, it's probably better to go elsewhere."

Murray's players seem to have bought into the theory that the Penguins did not give their best effort against the Flyers.

"They wanted to play us, that was their choice and we can't control that," said Senators centre Jason Spezza. "If that's what they wanted, they got what they wanted."

After jumping out of the gate with 15 wins in their first 17 games, the Senators have had to deal with issues in the locker room surrounding goaltender Ray Emery and, ultimately the dismissal of head coach John Paddock. By season's end, the Senators were in danger of missing the playoffs.

To make matters worse, the Senators will likely be without captain Daniel Alfredsson and Mike Fisher for the entire series. Alfredsson suffered neck and knee injuries as a result of a hit against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Fisher also went down with a knee injury in the same game.

Murray is using these circumstances to rally his team as it faces an uphill battle against the Penguins.

"I know going in everybody thinks Pittsburgh will probably beat us fairly easily and that's the impression I've gotten," Murray said.

Last year, the Senators eliminated the Penguins in the first round of the playoffs in five games.