The controversy: Murray plays his desperation card
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Bryan Murray, the coach of the Ottawa Senators, is a desperate man. Not only does he take an injured and reeling team into the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs tonight against the Penguins, who are healthy and surging, but he's looking hard at unemployment if his team is eliminated early.
And there's little doubt that elimination is what's facing Murray and the Senators.
Such desperate times call for desperate measures -- in this case truly desperate measures -- which is why Murray went on the attack earlier this week and suggested the Penguins lost their season finale Sunday to the Philadelphia Flyers so they would have an easier draw in the playoffs -- that draw being his Senators.
"I knew what was going on," claimed Murray. "You guys all know -- they wanted to play Ottawa. That's fine. That was fairly obvious from the drop of the puck."
What better way that to rile his dispirited bunch than to proclaim the Penguins wanted to play them because they're easier. It's about a simplistic a motivational tool as can be found, but it's about all Murray could muster.
The Senators are ripe to be had. Their championship window, gaping as recently as last season, is fast closing. They lost six of their final eight games and 24 of their final 38 and are expected to be without second leading-scorer Daniel Alfredsson and center Chris Kelly for this series.
There's no question the Senators are an easier opponent than the Flyers, who would have been at Mellon Arena tonight if the Penguins had won Sunday. But that hardly translate into deliberately attempting to lose a game.
That didn't stop Ottawa Sun journalist Don Brennan, a man desperate for a column, from not only agreeing with Murray but taking it a step further and writing, "[The Penguins] took a dive because they preferred a first-round matchup with the Senators."
For the benefit of Murray and Brennan, a team taking a dive does not give up one goal, which is all the Penguins allowed until an empty-netter in the final minute; it gives up six or seven with at least four of them coming in the first period.
A team taking dive does not play its top defenseman 29 minutes, 30 seconds, as the Penguins did with Sergei Gonchar.
The whole idea that the Penguins didn't want to win probably began when coach Michel Therrien decided to rest Sidney Crosby against the Flyers.
That is Therrien's choice, and it was a wise one. It's nice to see a coach with his eye on the real target -- the Stanley Cup -- and not the conference championship, which the Penguins would have won with a victory Sunday. The only thing surprising is that Therrien didn't rest more of his players, or at least give them less ice time.
If the Penguins really had wanted to tank it, that's their prerogative. All's fair in love, war and Stanley Cup competition. There's nothing wrong with wanting a lesser opponent, nothing wrong about desiring the easiest path to the Cup.
As far as the possibility of Murray and Brennan actually being correct, we'll allow veteran forward Gary Roberts to address that:
"[Murray] has an opinion, that's fine. We know we didn't go out there to throw the hockey game. I never put my skates on in my career when I went out hoping to lose or wanting to lose. Things didn't work out for us, but by no means did we throw the hockey game to play Ottawa."
As Roberts suggested, the Penguins were not at their best against the Flyers. There were plenty of reasons for that.
With a playoff spot and home ice clinched and with a message from the coach -- the resting of Crosby -- suggesting the game was not of the utmost importance, it's entirely possible Penguins were not as focused on victory as they might usually have been. But that was a product of human nature not a diabolical plot to disrespect Murray's players.
When the Senators eliminated the Penguins in five games last season, the young Penguins clearly were not ready for the playoffs. They got better as the series progressed but looked star-struck and dazed in the first game.
That won't happen this year.
"We're a different team," Crosby said after practice yesterday. "We've added guys with a lot of experience. We've faced adversity [in the form of multiple injuries] and came out of it pretty well."
Actually, they came through that adversity spectacularly well.
The Penguins will win in four, five at the most.
First Published April 9, 2008 12:00 am