Ruutu nets series winner as Penguins advance to 2nd round

Next opponent hinges on outcome of two other series

OTTAWA -- The tradition never changes.

Most of the faces were the same, too.

But beyond that, the handshake line at the end of the Penguins' first-round rematch against Ottawa couldn't have had any less in common with the one they experienced a year ago.

The emotions were different. The expressions were different. Most important, the winners were different.

This time, it was the Penguins who earned a berth in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs by virtue of a 3-1 victory against Ottawa at Scotiabank Place in Game 4 of their opening-round series last night.

Eliminating Ottawa didn't erase memories of the Penguins' five-game loss to the Senators in Round 1 last spring. Nothing will. But it sure took away a lot of the sting.

"Most of us, our first playoff memory was losing here," Penguins center Sidney Crosby said. "That's changed now."

Neither the identity of the Penguins' second-round opponent -- it could be Washington, the New York Rangers, New Jersey or Boston -- nor the starting date of that series has been determined.

The sweep, which is the only one in the NHL so far in 2008, was the Penguins' first since they defeated Chicago in the 1992 Stanley Cup final.

"I don't think anyone expected that to happen," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "But it's definitely a good feeling after what happened last year."

Senators coach Bryan Murray, playing his final tactical card, reunited the Dany Heatley-Jason Spezza-Daniel Alfredsson line, a unit that led Ottawa to the Stanley Cup final last spring.

His payoff: Five shots on goal, no points and a combined plus-minus rating of minus-six.

Although the Penguins had braced for an early surge by Ottawa, it never came. The Senators were outshot, 14-5, in the opening period and, for the fourth time in the series, failed to generate a goal in the first 20 minutes.

In fact, Ottawa went 10 minutes, 12 seconds without a shot, a streak that began in the first period and spilled into the second. Between the time the Senators recorded their fifth and sixth of the game, the Penguins took a 1-0 lead.

Heatley, a potential difference-maker who had virtually no positive impact on the series, took a needless penalty when he slashed Orpik 48 seconds into the second, and the Penguins capitalized on that power play.

Evgeni Malkin got the goal, his second of the series, at 1:40, as he one-handed his own rebound past Ottawa goalie Martin Gerber after taking a cross-ice pass from Crosby.

The Senators played most of the first 25 minutes as if they'd been served Quaalude soup at a team meal, but began to generate some momentum as the middle of the second approached, and Cory Stillman tied the score by nudging a shot over the goal line from the right side of the crease at 10:31.

But Penguins winger Jarkko Ruutu got what proved to be the series-winner -- his first in the NHL -- on an excellent individual effort, as he fought off Ottawa defenseman Brian Lee and threw a backhander past Gerber from the left side at 15:28.

"As I was trying to cut to the middle, I kind of lost it a little bit," Ruutu said. "I just turned around and tried to put it on the net."

Ruutu didn't see an opening and wasn't trying to hit a spot. He just wanted to launch the puck in the general direction of the Ottawa goal.

"I knew there was another guy going to the net, so I thought maybe there could be a rebound," he said. "But it just went in."

Although the Senators thought they had countered Ruutu's goal at 17:01, a video review determined that Ottawa's Antoine Vermette had used his right foot in the "distinct kicking motion" described in the rulebook to get a rebound past goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, and the goal was disallowed.

"I didn't really see what happened," Fleury said. "It happened so quick. ... It was a relief, though, to see that it didn't count."

That was as close as the Senators got, and Crosby sealed the outcome by hitting an empty net with 7.5 seconds to play. Reaching Round 2 might not go down as their highlight of the Penguins' playoff run, but doing it in a sweep is as good a start as they could have hoped to get.

"This is, for a lot of us, our first playoff series win," Crosby said. "We played hard the last four games, and earned it."

Dave Molinari can be reached at . First Published April 17, 2008 4:00 AM


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