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Alfredsson 'hopeful' he'll make return for Game 6

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson has been "encouraged" by on-ice sessions the last two days and hopes he can face the Rangers in Game 6 on Monday night at Scotiabank Place (Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).

Daniel Alfredsson has watched with pride — and yes, maybe a wee bit of anxiety — as his teammates pushed themselves to the brink of a stunning playoff upset.

Now he'd like to help them finish the job.

The Senators captain spent 70 minutes on the ice earlier this afternoon, then declared afterward he's "hopeful" that he'll be able to rejoin the fray Monday night (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200), when Ottawa attempts to apply the clincher in its Eastern Conference quarter-final series against the heavily favoured New York Rangers.

In the wake of a 2-0 victory on Saturday night in New York, the eight-seeded Senators lead the best-of-seven affair 3-2 and can oust the conference's top regular-season team — 17 points better than the Senators in the final standings, we hasten to add — with one more victory in front of what should be another raucous sellout crowd at Scotiabank Place (fewer than 50 tickets remain).

Alfredsson, who's missed the last three games after suffering a concussion in Game 2 — courtesy of an elbow to the head by the Rangers' Carl Hagelin — would dearly love to be a part of it all, though he's not quite ready to make that decision just yet.

"Today is another step and it's been a good couple of days," said the 39-year-old captain, who hit the ice Saturday for the first time in five days. "I'm going to wait until tomorrow but the way the last two days have felt, I'm encouraged."

That was also sweet music to head coach Paul MacLean and the rest of the Senators.

"We're encouraged and optimistic from the progress he has made," MacLean said, echoiing Alfredsson's words when asked about the possibility of getting his captain back for Game 6. "We'll see see where it is tomorrow. It's definitely encouraging."

Much as Alfredsson's teammates want to see their captain back in the lineup, they're also prepared to go back to work without him once more if need be.

"We're a much better team with Alfie in the lineup, but we're also a resilient bunch," said Senators centre Jason Spezza, whose two goals provided the margin of victory on Saturday. "If he can't play, we're fine and we can work through it. But there are no bones about it, we're a better team when he's in the lineup and having his presence."

Without their captain, the Senators have rallied to play what MacLean today called their best stretch of hockey of the season. In Game 2, Ottawa pulled out a 3-2 overtime win on Chris Neil's goal. Then, after dropping a 1-0 decision on home ice in Game 3, the Senators have notched back-to-back 3-2 (in overtime) and 2-0 triumphs to set the stage for a potential clincher.

"It could have been harder (being sidelined)," admitted Alfredsson, who's watched the last three games at home with his family. "The guys have played really hard. I think we've played the way we wanted and it's been fun to watch, but also a frustrating week. I feel good now so unless something changes ... I'm encouraged and hopeful for tomorrow."

Last Monday, Alfredsson took the morning skate prior to Game 3 but knew by the afternoon that playing so soon after the injury wasn't a real option.

"After the morning skate, I could tell I didn't feel right and I had to back off," he said. "It wasn't until Friday that I started feeling a little better. I rode the bike a little bid and then yesterday, I skated. I felt good after that. Now I realize when I do feel good."

Even though he had previous experience dealing with a concussion back in October, Alfredsson admitted "it's a hard injury to really evaluate."

"Do I feel like I do because I haven't done anything for four or five days? Or is it a concussion?" he said. "It's hard to know and I think you've got to try yourself in different situations and see how you react. The big thing is to really not stress too much about it.

"It is what it is and you can't speed it up. It's hard when you're hoping 'maybe I can come back in a couple of days.' You've just got to go with it and when you feel better, you push yourself a bit more."

Like everyone in the dressing room, Alfredsson can't wait to see the reception the Senators will get on home ice Monday night. Ottawa hasn't advanced to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs in 2007 and the city is already abuzz about a deeper post-season run that, back in September, seemed highly improbable.

"My wife (Bibbi) said it was unbelievably loud in Game 3 and Game 4, and TV doesn't really do it justice," said Alfredsson. "I'm hoping it will be as loud tomorrow, if not even louder. We can use the crowd to get us going. For a hockey player, playing in a playoff game at home ... it doesn't get much better."

Around the boards

Less than 24 hours after making his National Hockey League debut in Game 5 against the Rangers — and at venerable Madison Square Garden, to boot — rookie forward Mark Stone will still on a high thinking about the experience, which included an assist on Spezza's game-winner in the first period. "It was pretty sweet," said the Winnipeg native. "It made it all that much more special, to get the win. I was pretty excited after the game ... It's a night I'll always remember. I've always dreamed of playing on Saturday night on Hockey Night in Canada." ... With his shutout on Saturday, goaltender Craig Anderson lowered his goals-against average in the series to 1.79 and raised his save percentage to .943. He's faced 157 shots in the series to date, just 23 away from surpassing the club record in that category, set by Patrick Lalime in 2002 against the Toronto Maple Leafs. "In this round, he's really stepped up and elevated his play," said MacLean. "He's probably, in my opinion, been our best player."

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