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Senators look to maintain balance as playoffs begin

by Arpon Basu / NHL.com

MONTREAL -- Typical NHL teams will often try to ramp up their games when they enter the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Ottawa Senators are not a typical team.

When the Senators face the Montreal Canadiens in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference First Round series at Bell Centre on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET; NHLN-US, CBC, TVA Sports), it will officially be their first playoff game of the season.

But in reality, the Senators have been playing playoff hockey for the better part of two months and their challenge is not to raise their game, but simply to maintain the nearly unprecedented high level they were already on.

"We put a tremendous amount of effort into making it here," Senators rookie forward Mark Stone said. "We know there's still a long road ahead of us. I think [coach Dave Cameron] is stressing to continue to play the same way, continue to do the same things. At the end of the day we're playing one of the top teams in the conference, but we're just trying to stick to our game."

The Senators have no reason to change what they've done, and if there's one player who is trying to maintain his play more than any other it would have to be goaltender Andrew Hammond.

Hammond had his first NHL start against the Canadiens on Feb. 18, a 4-2 win at Canadian Tire Centre that began a 20-1-2 run for the 27-year-old goaltender.

Now, just short of two months later, Hammond will have his first NHL playoff start against the same team.

"I think I feel more comfortable now," Hammond said. "The level of play doesn't change. The speed will change a little bit; playoff hockey's a little bit faster. But the biggest thing with the first [regular season] game was just proving to myself that I can play at this level. I always thought I could and having that one game under my belt was big for that. Now it's just taking that into the postseason."

The playoff atmosphere at Bell Centre has been known to throw goalies off their game in the past, but it's not something Hammond appeared to be overly concerned about Wednesday morning.

"I'm worried about stopping the puck," Hammond said. "I don't think any of the extracurricular stuff will necessarily get to me. I have a pretty good understanding of what I need to do to be successful, and that's having a good focus. It's an experience I'll have to go through to really know, but I don't see it being a problem."

Cameron has made a point of addressing that with his team, and he thinks the level-headed approach the Senators displayed in even qualifying for the playoffs will allow them to manage the emotions of Game 1.

"One of the things you have to do in a series and in the playoffs, especially in a great atmosphere that's going to be here in Montreal, and the atmosphere is going to be the same in Ottawa, is you have to be able to find that balance," Cameron said. "I think that's one of the things we've been good at over the course of our run here, is that we've found balance."

The Canadiens also have a number of players who will get their first taste of playoff hockey in Montreal.

Forward Torrey Mitchell, who grew up in the Montreal suburb of Greenfield Park, is among them and his excitement for the moment began several days earlier.

"I'm so excited. I was actually watching some videos on YouTube, there's already some 2015 Montreal Canadiens promo videos that the fans have already put up on YouTube just giving me shivers thinking about jumping out on the ice. I'm excited, for sure," Mitchell said. "It probably pumps me up [being a hometown player]. I don't think there's any added pressure, there's enough pressure on all of us in here just carrying the weight of wearing that logo. No, if anything I'm maybe a little more comfortable because I've got more family and friends cheering me on."

The Canadiens will have to face the Senators without their leading scorer Max Pacioretty, out with an upper-body injury, and that means Devante Smith-Pelly will get the chance to play in Montreal's top-six. Smith-Pelly did not produce much after he was acquired in a trade with the Anaheim Ducks on Feb. 24, but a big reason Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin wanted him was his performance in the playoffs last season, when he had five goals in 12 games.

This will be a big opportunity for Smith-Pelly to prove his new general manager right.

"I think most guys in here are just tired of talking about it and want to go out and play,” Smith-Pelly said. "I know myself, I'm pretty tired of just waiting and waiting, so I just want to get out there and get the first shift and first game over with."

Here are the projected lineups:

SENATORS

Clarke MacArthur - Kyle Turris - Mark Stone

Milan Michalek - Mika Zibanejad - Bobby Ryan

Erik Condra - Jean-Gabriel Pageau - Curtis Lazar

Mike Hoffman - David Legwand - Alex Chiasson

Marc Methot - Erik Karlsson

Patrick Wiercioch - Cody Ceci

Mark Borowiecki - Eric Gryba

Andrew Hammond

Craig Anderson

Scratched: Jared Cowen, Colin Greening, Zack Smith, Chris Neil, Matt Puempel

Injured: Chris Phillips (back), Robin Lehner (concussion)

CANADIENS

Alex Galchenyuk - Tomas Plekanec - Brendan Gallagher

Devante Smith-Pelly - David Desharnais - PA Parenteau

Jacob De La Rose - Lars Eller - Dale Weise

Brandon Prust - Torrey Mitchell - Brian Flynn

Andrei Markov - P.K. Subban

Alexei Emelin - Jeff Petry

Nathan Beaulieu - Tom Gilbert

Carey Price

Dustin Tokarski

Scratched: Greg Pateryn, Mike Weaver, Sergei Gonchar, Manny Malhotra

Injured: Max Pacioretty (upper body)

Status report: Michalek will play his first game since March 21 after recovering from an upper-body injury, bumping Hoffman and his 27 regular season goals down the lineup. "[We get] a real good hockey player, a top-six forward, a veteran, a real pro, a guy who does things right," Cameron said of Michalek.

Who's hot: The line of MacArthur, Turris and Stone combined for 14 goals and 21 assists in the final nine games of the regular season. … Hammond allowed one goal over his final two starts of the regular season. … Eller has four goals in his past seven games. … Markov has two goals and six assists over a seven-game point streak. … Petry has three goals and four assists in his past seven games.

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