The last time they squared off at the Honda Center, the stakes couldn’t have been any higher.
And there will be a certain level of importance again Monday night, when the Ottawa Senators face off against the Anaheim Ducks (10 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200) in the opener of a four-game western road trip.
It’s the first meeting between the teams since June 6, 2007, the night the Ducks beat the Senators 6-2 to finish off the Stanley Cup final in five games. While neither team currently leads its conference, both are considered strong contenders to get back to the league’s championship series again this spring.
But for Senators head coach/general manager Bryan Murray, tonight isn’t about avenging last season’s Cup final loss. Rather, it’s an opportunity for his team to continue getting its game in order for the playoff chase to come.
“That’s last year,” said Murray. “They’re now a team climbing in the standings and again, they’re going to be a serious contender. So sure, there’s motivation in that. But there’s motivation in every game now, I hope.
“We’ve got a tough road trip here. We’ve got a tough finish to the year. We’ve just got to set up for each individual game and play well.”
Still, there would be a bit of satisfaction gained tonight in beating the team that ended the Senators’ season a year ago.
“We would definitely like to beat them, there’s no question,” said captain Daniel Alfredsson
. “We know they’re playing really well now. It’s going to be a good test for us. Obviously, you can’t bring it up to the intensity you had in the playoffs, but I think it will be as close as you can (get it).”
The Senators picked up the intensity in a major way during Saturday’s emotional 5-4 triumph over the Pittsburgh Penguins, which ended a three-game losing streak. Murray hopes that victory is a springboard for better things in the games ahead.
“The games going forward now, they all have to be (played) at a high level,” he said. “All I hope is that we continue to play better … I liked some of the things I saw (Saturday).”
But more will be required, no doubt, against the Ducks, the hottest team in the National Hockey League. They’re on a 10-1-0 run since veteran forward Teemu Selanne rejoined the team. Goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere has regained his top form, going 8-1-0 with a 1.44 goals-against average in recent weeks.
“It’s a nice measuring game,” said Murray. “We know they’re playing terrific right now, so it’s a nice game to see where we fit, no doubt about that.”
A victory could also vault the Senators back into top spot in both the Eastern Conference and Northeast Division standings. Right now, Ottawa stands second in the division (behind Montreal, which plays the Sharks in San Jose tonight) and ranks fifth in the conference with 80 points (37-23-6), but is a mere one point behind the Canadiens and Penguins and is dead even with the New Jersey Devils. The Boston Bruins and New York Rangers are lurking another four points back.
It simply couldn’t be much tighter.
“Everybody’s in the race, and you have to play accordingly if you’re going to make the playoffs, let alone go anywhere in the playoffs,” said Murray.
Around the boards
Martin Gerber (24-11-2) makes his second straight start in goal, facing the team that drafted him into the NHL … Big blueliner Chris Pronger (broken jaw) won’t be in the lineup for the Ducks tonight … It’s the first regular-season meeting between the teams since Jan. 19, 2006, when Anaheim scored a 4-3 shootout triumph at Scotiabank Place … The Senators are in San Jose on Wednesday, in Los Angeles on Thursday and in Phoenix on Saturday to conclude the road swing.