By Bucky Gleason
News Sports Columnist
Brooks Orpik barely celebrated his series-clinching overtime goal for the Penguins on Sunday before making a point to compliment the New York Islanders. It was a classy display by the Penguins defenseman, who was raised in East Amherst, but Orpik also was speaking the truth.
History will show that the Penguins dispatched the Islanders in six games, but it will not reveal the difficulty for Pittsburgh in the first round. The Isles gave the Pens all they could handle through the first four games. New York was the better team in Game Six, too, before allowing a late goal and falling in overtime.
The Islanders deserve credit for their grittiness and effort, but now you wonder how the Penguins will respond to a similar team in the second round. The Ottawa Senators came together after all the injuries early in the season and made quick work of the rival Montreal Canadiens in the first round, dumping the Habs in five games.
Who wins Pens-Sens, which starts tonight with Game One in Pittsburgh? Based on talent, Pittsburgh should have no problem reaching the conference finals. But given the way Ottawa has come together, don’t be surprised if there’s an upset.
San Jose will travel to Los Angeles to start their second-round matchup tonight. The Sharks have been sitting around after sweeping Vancouver. The Kings dropped their first two games to St. Louis before winning four straight.
Either the Penguins were exposed in the first round by a weaker but more determined team or they will snap to attention and remind themselves about the importance of playing sound defense. The Pens’ goaltending, atrocious when Marc-Andre Fleury was in net for the first four games, appeared to be shored up with Tomas Vokoun.
Here’s a closer look at the two series:
Pittsburgh (1) vs. Ottawa (7)
Penguins update: Evgeni Malkin had 11 points while Sidney Crosby and Jarome Iginla each had nine against the Islanders. The bad news is that they were a combined minus-2. Fleury (3.40 GAA, .891 save percentage) will remain on the bench until further notice. Vokoun (1.41 GAA, .957 SP) has taken over the net until he loses. Orpik’s series-ending tally was his first goal in 77 career playoff games and first in 106 games overall. The Pens’ power play was deadly, converting seven goals on 21 opportunities to lead the first round.
Senators update: Feel free to check their stats, but the numbers don’t reveal Ottawa’s biggest advantage. The Sens’ strength comes from their chemistry, which was strong in the regular season and was more evident in the first round against Montreal. See: line brawl. They have a great mix of good young players and experienced stars. Twelve players scored in the five games against the Habs. Kyle Turris was tied by two rookies, former Canisius star Cory Conacher and Jean-Gabriel Pageau, for the team lead with three.
Outcome: The Pens’ skill advantage is difficult to overlook, but there’s something about the Sens that makes you think everything is just right. Ottawa, on little more than a hunch, in six games.
Los Angeles (5) vs. San Jose (6)
Kings update: Their turnaround came after goaltender Jonathan Quick made a terrible play to lose Game Two to the Blues. Quick responded with a shutout in Game Three and allowed only six goals in four straight victories.
It was a good thing, too, because Los Angeles scored only 12 goals in the six games. You know about Mike Richards, Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter. The player to watch is Dustin Penner, who had two goals in the first round to match his regular-season total in 33 games. If he gets involved, look out.
Sharks update: Nothing builds confidence like a sweep, but nothing dulls the edge more than long layoffs between series. The key for them after delivering a first-round knockout to the Canucks will be keeping level heads and staying sharp. Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture combined for six of the Sharks seven power-play goals in the four games.
Antti Niemi was solid, allowing only eight goals to the Canucks. Martin Havlat hasn’t practiced since getting injured in Game One. Adam Burish also is out. South Buffalo native Tim Kennedy could see more playing time.
Outcome: San Jose surprised many, including me, with its first-round demolition of Vancouver. The Kings are the Cup champs until proven otherwise. Kings in six.