A lot to like in annihilation of Senators

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OTTAWA -- So what did you like best about the Penguins' four-game annihilation of the Ottawa Senators?

Good luck trying to answer that one.

Penguins coach Michel Therrien thought about the question for a second late last night and gave up.

"I'm pleased with everything we did."

Everything?

"Everything," Therrien said, firmly.

When's the last time you heard any coach say that?

Then again, when's the last time a hockey team had such a dominant playoff series performance from start to finish?

"We earned this," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said shortly after officially sweeping the Senators into the offseason with an empty-net goal that made the Game 4 final, 3-1.

I repeat, good luck trying to pick out what you liked best about all of it.

Was it the fabulous goaltending of Marc-Andre Fleury? His win in the clincher made it three times in four games he allowed one or fewer goals. That Ty Conklin controversy seems like a lifetime ago, doesn't it? Fleury stopped 107 of the Senators' 112 shots in the series, prompting Therrien to again call him the hottest thing in goalie pads.

Was it that Crosby and Evgeni Malkin did what stars do in big games by playing their best under the bright lights? Malkin scored the first goal last night after a terrific set-up pass from Crosby. Each finished the series with two goals, Crosby with six assists, Malkin with five. I'll let you decide which one is the best player in the world. To me, they are 1 and 1A. In no particular order.

Was it that the Penguins' power play scored in each game, including Malkin's goal last night? You would think a unit with Crosby, Malkin, Marian Hossa, Ryan Malone and Sergei Gonchar would score every time, but, really, that's not going to happen. As it was, 6 for 23 isn't bad.

Was it the Penguins' suffocating penalty-killing? The Senators' power play went 0 for 2 last night, 1 for 13 in the series.

Was it the Penguins' defensive dominance all the way around? Ottawa stars Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza each had just an assist in the series. Spezza had a mere 10 shots, Heatley nine. Heck, Hossa had nine shots last night.

Was it the Penguins' lopsided offensive edge? They outscored the Senators, 16-5, in the four games and outshot them, 161-112. The Senators' only lead in the series was 1-0 in Game 3 for 4 minutes, 28 seconds.

Was it that the Penguins got great work from their third and fourth lines? Third-line winger Jarkko Ruutu scored the winner last night, fighting off defenseman Brian Lee and beating goaltender Martin Gerber with a spinning backhanded shot.

Here's one final question for you to ponder:

Did you see anything in the four games that makes you think the Penguins can't go a lot deeper in the playoffs? To the Eastern Conference final, perhaps? All the way to the Stanley Cup final, even?

I didn't, either.

It was an amazing four games.

Maybe the most remarkable aspect of the series was the killer instinct the Penguins showed. Last night, it was Ruutu's marvelous goal just 4 minutes, 57 seconds after the Senators' Cory Stillman scored to tie things, 1-1. In Game 3 Monday night, Max Talbot quickly wiped out the Senators' brief 1-0 lead with a goal and then Crosby and Jordan Staal buried the Senators with goals in the first 90 seconds of the third period.

"Give all of the credit to the players," Therrien said. "We really dictated the game tonight."

All four games, actually.

The matches ahead will be much tougher. It doesn't matter what team the Penguins play in Round 2. Washington, the New Jersey-New York Rangers winner or even Boston will be better than the Senators, a dysfunctional bunch in the best of times and a decimated team in this series because of injuries to top players Daniel Alfredsson and Mike Fisher.

But the games in Round 2 won't be so much about what the opponent does. It will be all about the Penguins. As Malone put it, "We know if we play our game, we're a tough team to play against."

All the Penguins need to do is play like they did against the Senators.

In a way, it's a bit troubling that they could have as much as a week off before the next series. You hate to see anything threaten their momentum, although, as defenseman Brooks Orpik noted, "It's like [Petr] Sykora said, 'Sometimes, rest can be a big weapon.' "

Malone, who's banged up, and Gary Roberts, who has a groin problem, won't complain about the time off. Nor will Malkin and Staal, who have played in all 86 games so far.

No, the next series will get here soon enough.

In the meantime, the Penguins are going to spend a little time enjoying what, for many of them, was their first series victory.

"Team picture in front of the mural," Orpik said, rather loudly, a reference to the huge picture Senators management hung outside the Penguins' locker room, showing the handshake line after the Senators took out the Penguins in five playoff games last spring.

What a difference a year makes.

It only seemed appropriate that Orpik rubbed the Senators' noses in it one final time.

The Penguins spent four games doing just that.


Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com .


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