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Stone replacing Conacher in Senators lineup

by Erin Nicks

OTTAWA -- The youth movement for the Ottawa Senators continues; 21-year-old forward Mark Stone will enter the lineup for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals on Wednesday against the Pittsburgh Penguins (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS).

Ottawa is down 2-1 in the best-of-7 series, and Senators coach Paul MacLean wanted a bigger body around the opposing net, something the 6-foot-2, 188-pound wing can provide.

"We factored in how well [Stone] has played in the American Hockey League [with Binghamton] this year," MacLean said of Stone, who tied for the AHL team lead with 38 points. "He's really had a good season there. He's really good with the puck and without it. He's a big man down around the net."

Stone is used to being thrown into high-pressure situations. Last season he made his NHL debut in Game 5 of the Senators' quarterfinal series against the New York Rangers, recording an assist on Jason Spezza's game-winning goal in a 2-0 victory at Madison Square Garden.

Due to the previous experience with Spezza, Stone is expected to flank the veteran center on the right, with Milan Michalek skating on the left. The move has made Cory Conacher the odd-man out, and he will sit Wednesday as a healthy scratch. With three goals in seven postseason games, MacLean was asked if the move was a reflection on Conacher's play.

"It's nothing particular," MacLean said. "Somebody has to come out if we're going to put somebody in. [Conacher] has played well for us and scored some big goals for us. He's been out of the lineup in the past and gone back in and played well. You're trying to find your best, most competitive team every night. You're going to make changes. [Conacher] shouldn't see this as anything more than a numbers game.”

Captain Daniel Alfredsson was asked if the moment would be tough on Stone.

"No, it's awesome," Alfredsson said. "What an opportunity. I feel more for Conacher, who has to get out of the lineup. It's a great chance for [Stone]; he's just going to go in and play. I don't think there's a lot of pressure on him. He knows what he can do -- he's got a quick stick and a quick release. If he can get the puck around the net, usually good things happen."

Spezza said, "I would say [Stone and I] have a little bit of natural chemistry. The times we've played together in practice and a little bit in exhibition, I've liked the way he's played. Chemistry takes a bit of time; sometimes with guys you hit it off a bit quicker [than others.] But with [Stone], he seems like he can find that kind of soft slot area, he's good in front of the net and he definitely suits my game."

For his part, Stone plans to use last year's postseason experience as a template to prepare for Game 4 against Pittsburgh.

"Playing last year in the playoffs in Madison Square Garden -- it's a pretty similar atmosphere," Stone said. "Obviously, the pace ups [in the second round] but I'm just excited to be here and get a chance to help the team. Watching the games [as a Black Ace], you want to be a part of it. Practicing with the top players has helped a lot. When I packed my bags [in Binghamton] to come to Ottawa, I thought I'd be an Ace. Then when I got the call to practice with the team, I was really excited. I hope to be a part of the team from here on out."

MacLean may be thinking the same thing.

"We have long thought that [Stone] could be a good linemate for [Spezza]," MacLean said. "Circumstances haven't allowed that to happen up until this time."

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