Senators-Maple Leafs Preview
GAME: Ottawa Senators (43-23-10-6) at Toronto Maple Leafs (45-24-10-3).
PLAYOFF SERIES: Eastern Conference quarterfinals; Game 1.
TIME: Thursday, 7 p.m. EDT.
The Ottawa Senators came within one win of reaching the Stanley Cup finals
To advance further this year, they'll first have to knock off a Northeast
Division rival they've never beaten in the postseason.
The Senators renew their playoff rivalry with the Toronto Maple Leafs when
the clubs meet in the postseason for the fourth time in five years.
Ottawa, which won the Presidents' Trophy last season, nearly overcame a 3-1
series deficit before losing to eventual Stanley Cup champion New Jersey in a
seven-game Eastern Conference finals.
After some early struggles this season, the Senators regained the form that
had many observers predicting a berth in the Stanley Cup finals.
"We want to win the Stanley Cup," Ottawa general manager John Muckler
said. "If you can't talk about it, then you can't win it. We feel we have an
opportunity. Whether it's going to happen or not, only time will tell, but we
feel good about our team."
The Senators didn't face the Maple Leafs, their postseason nemesis, last
year. Ottawa lost to Toronto in the quarterfinals in 2000 and 2001, and fell to
the Leafs in seven games in the semifinals in 2002.
Ottawa has become one of the NHL's elite teams since those defeats. With
their skilled and speedy forwards, the Senators led the NHL with 262 goals this
season, one year after topping the Eastern Conference.
Marian Hossa, Daniel Alfredsson, Martin Havlat, Jason Spezza and late-season
acquisition Peter Bondra form one of the league's most dangerous group of
forwards, with each player scoring more than 20 goals this season. Also,
defensemen Wade Redden, Zdeno Chara and Chris Phillips combined for 40 goals
and 57 assists.
All that offense, however, may not matter if the Senators can't get their
goaltending stabilized. Ottawa may have to rely on backup Martin Prusek instead
of Patrick Lalime, who has a sprained left knee. Even before getting injured,
Lalime didn't have nearly as good a season as he did last year, when he
recorded 39 wins and eight shutouts.
Lalime practiced Wednesday morning but Martin refused to name his starter
and even said that if Lalime wasn't healthy enough to play, the Senators would
call up Ray Emery to serve as Prusek's backup.
"It feels good, but we'll see how it is (Thursday)," said Lalime. "If
it's ready to go, I'll go and if it's not, I won't. It's about what I feel."
By contrast, Toronto has plenty of confidence in its goaltending. Ed Belfour
had shutouts in the Leafs' final two regular-season games and finished with 10,
as well as a 2.13 goals-against average.
The Maple Leafs will need Belfour at his best against the speedy Senators.
Ottawa may try to use its skating to wear down Toronto, the NHL's oldest club
and not one of its fastest.
Forwards Mats Sundin (33), Joe Nieuwendyk (37), Gary Roberts (37) and Owen
Nolan (32) give the Leafs a wealth of playoff experience - along with a lot of
Toronto also added veterans near the trading deadline, picking up
41-year-old center Ron Francis and 36-year-old defenseman Brian Leetch in deals
and coaxing 37-year-old defenseman Calle Johansson out of retirement.
Perhaps the main reason for the Leafs' postseason domination of the Senators
has been their physical style. Toronto is likely to try that approach again,
and have the players to do it with Roberts, Nolan, Tie Domi and Bryan
The Senators have made moves to bulk up for the postseason in recent years,
supplementing physical defensemen Chara and Redden with forwards such as Chris
Neil and Vaclav Varada, and defensemen Todd Simpson and Greg de Vries, who was
picked up from the New York Rangers at the trading deadline in March.
"We've said it from the start: The club that can handle that best, remain
disciplined and remain focused on the task at hand will be successful," Maple
Leafs GM John Ferguson said. "We're confident it will be our club."
The play of Francis could be critical if the Leafs are to advance. Sundin,
Toronto's top center and leading scorer, is certain to face Ottawa's top
defensemen in Chara, Redden and Phillips most of the time. That strategy has
worked before against the Leafs, so they'll need production from Francis,
fourth on the NHL's career scoring list.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Senators - 102 points, 5th seed; Maple Leafs - 103
points, 4th seed.
TEAM LEADERS: Senators - Hossa, 36 goals and 82 points; Alfredsson, 48
assists; Neil, 194 PIM. Maple Leafs - Sundin, 31 goals, 44 assists and 75
points; Domi, 208 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Senators - Power play: 21.6 percent (80 for 370), 21.6 in
NHL. Penalty killing: 83.6 percent (290 for 347), 18th. Canucks - Power play:
14.9 percent (56 for 376), 22nd. Penalty killing: 83.4 percent (322 for 386),
GOALTENDERS: Senators - Lalime (25-23-7, 5 SO, 2.29 GAA); Prusek (16-6-3, 3,
2.12). Maple Leafs - Belfour (34-19-6, 10, 2.13); Trevor Kidd (6-5-2, 1, 3.26).
REGULAR SEASON SERIES: Maple Leafs, 4-1-1. Toronto punctuated its victory in
the series with a 6-0 win Saturday in the teams' season finale. Toronto's
domination of the Senators came after it won just three times in the previous
16 meetings. Lalime went 0-3 with 3.80 GAA against Toronto this season, while
Belfour went 3-0-1 with a 0.98 and a shutout in the series.