As soon as he finished off his sterling relief appearance Wednesday in Chicago, Blackhawks goalie Ray Emery had to know what was coming:
A start in Ottawa. A media blitz at the pregame skate at Scotiabank Place. Questions of how he'll be received by fans in Canada's capital city.
It's all coming true.
Emery will start Friday (7 p.m. ET, TSN) against his old team in his old barn, where he played in the Stanley Cup Final nearly five full years ago. However, Emery, who made 23 saves in a 5-4 come-from-behind relief win against the Maple Leafs on Wednesday, told ESPNChicago.com that he's not necessarily thinking about the past or what happened when he was in Ottawa four years ago.
"It's very special," Emery said Friday morning. "It's the team I was drafted by and we had a good year going to the Cup Final (in 2007), but you have to put that in the back of your head and focus on the game. Especially at this time of the year; it's a huge game for us."
Emery was drafted by the Senators in the fourth round (No. 99) in 2001. He used to room with Jason Spezza when they played with AHL Binghamton, and six years after he was drafted he was the goalie that led Ottawa to the Stanley Cup Final.
Emery won 33 games in the regular season in 2006-07, and won another 13 in the playoffs. He was the "it" guy in a city that has a love affair with its hockey team.
But then it all went south.
Emery had a series of off-ice incidents that caused headaches for GM Bryan Murray and then-coach John Paddock. Murray tried to trade Emery in 2008, but couldn't find any takers and ended up buying Emery out of his contract following the 2007-08 season.
After spending a year playing in Russia, Emery returned to the NHL for the 2009-10 season with the Philadelphia Flyers. However, he suffered a debilitating hip injury that season that nearly cost him his playing career. He made it back with Anaheim last season, and after a strong playoff run, he earned a one-year contract in training camp with the Blackhawks this season.
Corey Crawford's inconsistencies have opened the door for Emery to take over as the Blackhawks' No. 1 goalie, which leads his story back to Ottawa, where it all began.
Emery enters Friday's game with a 12-8-2 record and 2.72 goals-against average. The win he earned Wednesday was his first since Jan. 20, but if he can string together some good starts, odds are he can wrestle the No. 1 job away from Crawford in time for the Hawks to make a run to secure their playoff berth.
"The competitiveness is there and it's good to see him do well," Spezza said of Emery, according to the Ottawa Sun.
Emery isn't sure how he'll be greeted by the fans at Scotiabank Place.
"Getting booed on the road is like getting cheered at home," he told reporters. "We'll see how it goes."
Chris Neil told the Ottawa Sun he expects the fans will greet the former Emery warmly.
"He was a big part of the year we went to the Final, so I think fans will have good memories of him and obviously there'll be a warm welcome for him," Neil said. "He's turned his life and his career around. He's been able to battle back through (his hip injury), and it's a feel-good story."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl