The second-round series between the Penguins and Ottawa Senators will begin tonight at Consol Energy Center.
On the ice, anyway.
Off the ice, the games between the teams have been going on for a while. Senators owner Eugene Melnyk, unafraid to roll up his sleeves and wade into the fray behind the scenes, posted this Monday on Twitter:
"Some tweets we get from #Pens fans are profanity filled. That's classless -- it's just a game. You are embarassing [sic] your city, team & players."
Penguins vs. Ottawa Senators, Eastern Conference semifinal series, 7:38 p.m. today, Consol Energy Center.
- TV, Radio:
NBC Sports Network, WXDX-FM (105.9).
- Probable goaltenders:
Tomas Vokoun for Penguins; Craig Anderson for Senators.
Are 9-7 in games, 2-1 in series in playoffs vs. Senators. ... Swept three-game regular-season series. ... Jarome Iginla, Pascal Dupuis and Evgeni Malkin had at least one point in each game in first-round series win against Islanders.
Beat Montreal in first round, 4-1. ... Daniel Alfreddson and Erik Karlsson tied for team lead with 6 playoff points. ... Wingers Erik Condra and Colin Greening each were minus-1, only players not even or better vs. Canadiens.
- Hidden stat:
Sidney Crosby has 10 goals, 27 points in 15 playoff games vs. Ottawa, and his average of 1.8 points a game vs. the Senators in the playoffs is higher than his 1.04 average against them in the regular season.
The Penguins, unlike Melnyk, are loath to look beyond the power plays and the puck management.
Consider team captain Sidney Crosby's response to Melnyk's tweet.
"I don't see Penguins fans as classless, but I also can't speak for what these tweets are," Crosby said. "You can't control what somebody writes -- or whether they're even from Pittsburgh. Who knows? I try not to get caught up in the Twitter wars."
The Penguins are distancing themselves from payback issues, grudge matches, wars of words and anything else that can -- and probably will -- add a strong undercurrent of sidebar topics to these Eastern Conference semifinals.
"The off-ice stuff -- accusations and that stuff -- it does not play into the series for our team. At all," coach Dan Bylsma said. "Definitely not going to make it part of the series for our team. Whether it comes into play or whether there's emotion there on their side, I don't think so. I think they'll be focused on winning four hockey games."
The Penguins and Senators have met in the playoffs three times since 2007, all in the first round, with the Penguins winning the past two, in 2008 and 2010.
There is that history. There is the matchup of Ottawa defenseman Sergei Gonchar playing against his former team, including his friend and former tenant, center Evgeni Malkin.
The biggest off-ice topic between the clubs this season, by far, stems from an incident Feb. 13 at Consol Energy Center, where Penguins winger Matt Cooke's skate blade inadvertently cut the Achilles tendon of star Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson, who required surgery but has returned.
Accusations were flung toward Cooke. Melnyk even said he was seeking forensic evidence to forward to the NHL that Cooke intentionally injured Karlsson.
Cooke summarily dismissed any lingering issues, although he wouldn't mind if the Senators are distracted.
"I've always approached games [by considering] that if teams are thinking about me and worried about me, then they're not focused on what they have to do," he said. "That doesn't change."
Whether the grudge affects the way the Senators play remains to be seen -- after all, Melnyk and the Ottawa fans who have been steamed won't be in a position to hit Cooke or anyone else, or try to pick a fight, or make the Penguins pay by running up the score against them.
If the Senators take runs at Cooke and he does not retaliate, they risk putting their club at a disadvantage by taking penalties.
"The whole thing with [Cooke], I know that's not a distraction on our side," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "If they're smart, they'll do their best not to make it a distraction for their side.
"This time of the year, there's not a lot of room for error. If you take a stupid penalty and that one power-play goal costs you a game, it's something you don't really want to have to live with.
"From our side, it hasn't been talked about, but everyone's aware of it."
For Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen, winning the best-of-seven matchup trumps getting in the last word on any off-ice matter.
"You don't just forget about it, but I don't think it's going to be an issue," he said. "Guys care too much about winning the series, and they're not going to let that get in the way of winning the series and moving on to the conference final. Guys will put it aside for now."
On the ice, the playoffs version of emotion and hard feelings could take a different direction, one based on old-fashioned competition and the teams' earlier clashes.
"They have a lot of new guys; we have a lot of new guys," Cooke said. "Things are different.
"But I also think that anytime you have intense playoff series against teams over a period of time, then it creates a rivalry. It creates that intensity.
"Three in the recent five or six years, that familiarity would be there. I just think it makes it more intense. It makes it more fun and maybe gets the fans into it a little more as well."
For more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Shelly Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @pgshelly. First Published May 14, 2013 4:00 AM