OTTAWA — Retaliation is not on Marc Methot’s mind as the Ottawa Senators prepare to take on Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL Eastern Conference Final.
Methot suffered a badly lacerated pinky finger when Crosby, who was not assessed a penalty on the play, slashed the Senators defenceman’s left hand in a March 23 game. The injury forced Methot to miss the last nine games of the regular season and one playoff game, but he said he’s worried about bigger things than getting even with the Penguins star.
“I think for me, all that’s behind me and I’m just focused on the series and focused on the Penguins and that’s going to be the goal for me moving forward,” Methot said Thursday. “I’m just going to play him hard like every other guy on that team and focus on winning.”
The Senators eliminated the New York Rangers in six games in the Eastern Conference semifinals, advancing to the third round for the first time since 2007 and the third time in franchise history.
This series, beginning Saturday night in Pittsburgh, is the fifth between the teams. Ottawa won the first but the Penguins have won the past three, most recently a 4-1 victory in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season.
Once again the Senators will be considered the underdog, but it’s a role they’ve relished this post-season in series wins over the Boston Bruins and the Rangers.
“No one’s picking us again, for sure, but at the end of the day though you still have to win four games and it’s hard to do,” said forward Clarke MacArthur. “Whether you’ve got the upper hand or not it’s just really tough to get the four games so there’s always a chance.”
Through the first two rounds the Senators often frustrated opponents with their play through the neutral zone and know they will need to adhere to Guy Boucher’s system if they hope to beat the Penguins.
“It’s not one of those series where you can expect to just maybe overpower them or try to go out of your way to be physical, because I think that’s where they thrive and they expose teams,” Methot said. “When you try to run them out of the building they just seem to keep clawing back and expose guys and when you’re getting a little tired out there, it just takes a nice little play and they’ve got a goal. For us our structure is more important than ever.”
The Senators will also need to find a way to deal with Crosby, who has an impact every time these teams meet. The Penguins captain has 14 goals and 19 assists in 20 playoff games against Ottawa.
“When you talk about their team he’s their leader, he’s their guy that pushes their team and he’s the best player in the league up front if you look at the skill that he has he makes a lot out of not a lot of space, not a lot of time,” said veteran defenceman Dion Phaneuf, who will be playing in his first conference final.
“He’s very, very strong on the puck, but they’ve got some other guys that are very skilled too. It’s going to be a challenge for us as a team. When you play those guys you treat them like you treat the other skilled guys in the league, they want a lot of time, they want space so we’ve got to limit their time and space and take their chances away.”
The series will also a feature a few close friends going head-to-head as Phaneuf and MacArthur take on former Toronto teammate Phil Kessel.
“(Kessel’s) one of the guys I’ve always kept in touch with and close friends with,” MacArthur said. “I texted him (Wednesday) and said the gloves are off now for the series. It will be good.”
The Senators appear to have its full roster at its disposal with the exception of defenceman Mark Borowiecki, who hasn’t played since Game 2 of the Boston series.
That being said GM Pierre Dorion says just about every player is dealing with something.
Dorion is impressed with what his team has accomplished to this point, but thinks they have more to prove.
“I think our group is very happy with winning the Rangers’ series, but what I’ve been impressed with is their attitude that I don’t think they’re satisfied with just winning the Rangers series. I think they feel that they can achieve much more.”