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Starkey: Pens' offense blazing historic path

| Thursday, May 23, 2013, 10:51 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Pascal Dupuis scores a short-handed goal in the third period against the Senators on Wednesday, May 22, at Scotiabank Place.

If the Ottawa Senators are to depart the playoff scene Friday night — we're still waiting to see if Daniel Alfredsson goes reverse Mark Messier and guarantees a loss — at least they will have left us with two glorious quotes.

The first occurred after Game 2, courtesy of defenseman Erik Karlsson, who was asked what happened on the play where Sidney Crosby turned him into a human traffic cone.

“Are you blind?” Karlsson said.

Alfredsson, Ottawa's esteemed captain, topped that when asked after Wednesday's Game 4 massacre if his team could win three in a row against the Penguins.

“Probably not,” he said.

Sure, Alfredsson elaborated on that quote, as Penguins coach Dan Bylsma and his players were quick to point out when asked about it Thursday.

But the “probably not” part kind of stands out.

I don't blame Alfredsson. He was either being brutally honest — a rarity in postgame scrums not involving Brooks Orpik — or desperately trying some sort of reverse psychology on his team. It sounded like Penguins winger Matt Cooke suspected the latter.

“I think he's a smart guy,” Cooke said. “I'm sure he has the right intentions and motives behind his comments.”

Either way, here's the cold, hard truth: Nothing short of another Craig Anderson miracle is going to send this series back to Ottawa for Game 6.

The Penguins appear to have broken the will of an extremely willful team. They have poked Pluto-sized holes in the league's second-stingiest defense, lit up the league's best penalty kill to the tune of a 23.8-percent success rate and turned Anderson into a shell of his regular-season self.

Twice, Anderson has taken the skate of shame — pulled from two games after not getting pulled from one all season. The Penguins now have four goalie-knockouts in these playoffs.

So maybe it was Ottawa defenseman Marc Methot who delivered the money quote of the series when he said, “We're up against a monster here.”

The numbers aren't just scary, they're on the verge of becoming unprecedented in this particular millennium.

The Penguins are averaging 4.1 goals through 10 playoff games. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the most recent time a team advanced to the third round averaging four goals or better was 1997, when the Colorado Avalanche (4.3) and Philadelphia Flyers (4.1) achieved the feat.

The last team to win a Cup averaging four or more? The 1990 Edmonton Oilers at 4.2.

Doesn't it always seem like talk of these Penguins goes back to those Oilers, even the '90 version without Wayne Gretzky?

Going into the playoffs, people wondered how the Penguins would fare against an airtight defensive team. They're answering that question now, though it's fair to wonder if the Senators are really as airtight as their regular-season numbers would indicate.

The thing about the Penguins is that they clearly reached a different gear in Games 3 and 4. Suddenly, everything was faster. Suddenly, they were consistently and relentlessly dominant, save for a few mental lapses in their zone.

Of the teams still alive, only the Chicago Blackhawks have that same gear — and they're in a bit of trouble at the moment. I also suspect the Penguins have another gear to get to.

James Neal, whose healthy presence changes everything, put it succinctly: “We're a confident group right now.”

They should be. And if the question of the moment now becomes, Can anybody tame this monstrous offense over the course of a seven-game series? I'm fairly confident in my answer:

Probably not.

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. His columns appear Thursdays and Sundays. Reach him at jraystarkey@gmail.com.

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