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This time, Penguins a true playoff team

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'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By Mike Prisuta
Thursday, April 10, 2008

The building was ready to burst when the lights went down just before face-off, and the Penguins players on the bench could hardly contain themselves during the dual national anthems.

But it was efficiency and energy as much as emotion that beat the Ottawa Senators, 4-0.

The Penguins played hard, but within themselves.

No small trick that, given the circumstances.

It was Ottawa that had bullied, bruised and quickly eliminated the Penguins a postseason ago.

The Penguins had made no secret of their desire to send a message to the Senators in the days leading up to Game 1, or their intent to set a tone for a series they were determined to will to a different outcome.

As if to emphasize the point, the pregame festivities included the phrase "This Is Our Time" emblazoned in lights across the Mellon Arena ice.

It may be, at that. But to realize it, these Penguins are going to have to take their time.

That was a message veterans Petr Sykora and Jarkko Ruutu had been promoting, to the media and perhaps to their teammates through the media in advance of the hostilities.

One shift, one period at a time.

Win the little battles. Win in your own end.

Play the system, not the score sheet.

Be spectacular if possible, but gritty and responsible above all else.

Such patience played out not to perfection on Wednesday night, but to the desired end.

The Penguins' talent contributed.

Their tenacity won the game.

Gary Roberts got 'em started by ambushing Wade Redden behind the Ottawa net and then batting in a Georges Laraque rebound at 68 seconds.

Max Talbot also assisted on the type of playoff goal the Penguins are going to have to continue to score.

Sykora got another one on the type of play the Penguins are capable of when they're able to turn a seemingly harmless play along the boards into a two-on-one break.

Just as significant were the likes of Roberts and Laraque combining for a second-period cycle in the Ottawa zone that threatened not to end.

And Sidney Crosby extending to deflect a pass intended for sniper Dany Heatley in the high slot.

And Ruutu hustling for a loose puck and drawing a penalty.

And Kris Letang shooting the puck and driving the net and drawing a penalty.

The Senators offered relatively little resistance, but before the Penguins put them away late Ottawa had two chances to get back into the game thanks to 57- and 52-second two-man advantages.

The Penguins' penalty-killers wouldn't let them.

It was only one game.

But already this has a different feel.

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