Penguins shift focus to playoffs after sloppy loss

PHILADELPHIA -- The Penguins held Sidney Crosby out of their regular-season finale against Philadelphia yesterday.

They might as well have announced that Attention to Detail was a healthy scratch, too.

The series
  • Opponent: Ottawa Senators.
  • Season series: Ottawa, 3-1.
  • Dates: Wednesday and Friday, Mellon Arena; April 14 and 16 at Ottawa. If necessary, April 19 at Mellon Arena; April 20 at Ottawa; April 22 at Mellon Arena.
  • Times: The first four games will start at 7:08 p.m.
  • TV: All games scheduled for FSN Pittsburgh. Game 6 could be switched to NBC.vs.

And that Passion and Urgency had been given the day off.

Their performance in a 2-0 loss to the Flyers at the Wachovia Center rivaled almost any of their most sloppy and sluggish efforts in the previous 81 games, and cost them an opportunity to earn the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.

"I think both teams were -- I don't want to say, trying get through that game -- but ... I think we were both thinking about bigger things," defenseman Hal Gill said.

It showed.

Had they defeated the Flyers for the fourth consecutive game, the Penguins would have faced Philadelphia in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Instead, they will take on Ottawa, with Game 1 at Mellon Arena Wednesday.

Coach Michel Therrien said he held Crosby, who missed 28 games earlier this season because of a high ankle sprain, out of the game as a precaution, because "it was not worth it to risk an injury right before the playoffs."

Crosby said he could have played -- and that, "for sure," he would have, if Therrien had left the decision to him.

"It was just a matter of being rested," Crosby said. "Coach told me that he'd like to have me rest. ... You always want to play, but when I came back from my injury, my goal was to make sure I'm ready for the playoffs, that I felt good and my ankle felt good. And everything's been great."

The real significance of slipping to No. 2 in the East is open to debate; its only practical impact is on T-shirt sales and the location of Game 7 in the conference final, if the Penguins make it and happen to be facing Montreal, which ended up No. 1 in the conference.

"It's definitely a disappointment for our team, and we wanted to get [the top seed]," center Jordan Staal said. "But right now, it's something that's not important. We just have to focus on the team we're playing in the playoffs, and go from there."

That would be the Senators, who ran the Penguins out of the 2007 playoffs in five games and won three of four games against them this season.

Ottawa all but self-destructed after a 15-2 start and is expected to be without several key forwards -- Daniel Alfreddson (knee), Mike Fisher (knee) and Chris Kelly (knee) -- for most, if not all, of Round 1. Nonetheless, its success against the Penguins during the past 12 months means they might be the one opponent the Senators could be confident about facing.

"You have to understand that it's a brand-new season for everybody now," Penguins left winger Jarkko Ruutu said. "They know how to win. They had a struggle at the end of the year, but they're starting with a fresh sheet again."

The Penguins, though, don't seem particularly concerned about how they've sputtered against Ottawa. In fact, most don't seem to mind facing the Senators again, at all.

"It's payback," Staal said. "I think every player in this dressing room wants to give it back to them for what they did to us last year."

The Penguins were at their worst yesterday when they were on the power play; they had eight chances with the extra man, and failed to capitalize on any.

"We gave up more scoring chances on the power play than we got," Therrien said. "That's a pretty good indication that the power play was not that good."

Scottie Upshall gave the Flyers the only goal they needed when he scored from near the crease at 18:30 of the second period; Mike Knuble got the other goal when he hit an empty net with 52.7 seconds left in regulation.

Knuble's goal cemented Montreal's place as the Eastern champion, as well as the Penguins' first-round matchup with the Senators. By the time the Penguins made it to their locker room, the Senators series had replaced the Eastern race as the primary topic of conversation.

"Obviously, finishing first was the idea, but we're looking at a bigger goal," Gill said. "We have to win the first round, and go from there."

Dave Molinari can be reached at . First Published April 7, 2008 4:00 AM


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