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Senators beat Wild in home opener

by Erin Nicks /
KANATA, Ont. -- For the third time in as many games, the Ottawa Senators had to dig themselves out of a hole. This time, they got the job done -- and gave new coach Paul MacLean his first NHL victory.

The Senators delighted the sellout crowd at Scotiabank Place as they opened their 20th home season by rallying from 2-0 and 3-1 deficits to beat the Minnesota Wild 4-3 in a shootout on Tuesday night. Third-period goals by Chris Neil and Colin Greening forced overtime, and Milan Michalek, Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson all beat Niklas Backstrom in the shootout.

The Senators had been 18-34 all-time in shootouts before beating the Wild, who got a shootout goal by Matt Cullen.

"I don't know. We're 1 and 0," MacLean said. "We scored three goals in the shootout and I think the history's good."

The Senators spotted Detroit and Toronto 4-0 leads in their first two games, losing 5-3 to the Wings and 6-5 to the Leafs. Returning home and playing in front of a full house of 19.455 that included members of the original 1992-93 team made a difference.

"Everybody should be excited about home openers," MacLean said. "It's a great opportunity for us to show our fans the type of team we want to be. You might have a little anxiety about it, but you should be able to put your best foot forward."

The Senators dominated the opening minutes, but the Wild got on the board first when Kyle Brodziak got a piece of Clayton Stoner's bouncing wrister and deflected it past Craig Anderson at 8:41. Minnesota made it 2-0 at 19:11 when Koivu fed Devin Setoguchi, who went top shelf to beat Anderson for a power-play goal. Former Senator Dany Heatley had the second assist, earning a cascade of boos.

It's been two years since the Senators traded Heatley to San Jose -- the Sharks dealt him to Minnesota this summer -- after the two-time 50-goal scorer demanded a trade away from Ottawa, but many Senators fans continue to have long memories. Heatley appeared to take the negative sentiment in stride.

"I actually saw a couple of jerseys that were unmarked, so that was pretty good," Heatley said. "I thought it was all right. I thought it was what I expected it to be."

Neil helped get the Senators and the crowd back in the game early in the second period when he leveled Stoner behind the Wild net with a massive shoulder-to-chest hit. Ottawa capitalized on that renewed energy at 8:17, when Nick Foligno scored off a scramble. Ottawa outshot Minnesota 13-2 in the second and 29-14 through two periods but still trailed 2-1.

"Obviously if we're doing it right, we can demand our young guys do it right," Neil said. "Tonight we were able to do that for almost a full 60. I think tonight we're pretty happy with the win because we worked hard and we deserved it."

Neil also made sure that Heatley's return to Ottawa was an unpleasant one, pestering the new Wild winger and laying a decent hit on him early in the third. However, Neil insists that no vendetta was intended.

"He's still a player out there and I think we always want to be in skilled players' faces," Neil said. "I think if you bump them off a face-off or do whatever you have to do, but you have to be disciplined about it, as well. I think for the most part, we played him hard tonight, and we didn’t leave him much opportunity to score. With his one-timer, he's got a great shot. Obviously he's a guy we want to key in on, and we were able to do that."

Heatley acknowledged that his former teammate had a successful outing.

"He made a couple of hits. I thought (Neil) played well," Heatley said. "(Foligno) played well, as well."
Nick Johnson made it 3-1 at 1:56 of the third when he scored off a scramble, but Neil cut the margin back to one goal when he jumped on a rebound from Peter Regin and put a high wrist shot past Backstrom at 6:13. Colin Greening tied it at 8:22, pumping the rebound of Michalek's shot behind Backstrom.

Backstrom, who faced 44 shots and was named the game's first star, also gave the Senators credit while expressing disappointment with the outcome.  

"When they stepped up, we didn't really have that step," Backstrom said. "We got one point but we want to do better in the future. We don't want to be in our zone that long; we want to be in the other end and we're working on that. I think that we can be better than that. That's something we'll have to stress."
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