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Neil: 'Things are looking good' for playoff opener

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Senators forward Chris Neil practised with the team today and expects to be ready for the playoff opener against the Rangers, set for Thursday night at Madison Square Garden in New York (Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images).

The Ottawa Senators' ultimate warrior is on the road to being ready for the playoff battle.

Rugged forward Chris Neil, who missed the Senators' season finale after taking an awkward — and scary — tumble into the boards during a practice shootout drill, was back on the ice with his teammates earlier today. Afterward, he told the assembled media "things are looking good" for him to be good to go for Thursday's playoff opener against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden in New York (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).

"I'm feeling pretty good," said Neil, who skated on his own for 45 minutes before taking part in the first 15 minutes of practice. "Not going to New Jersey (for Saturday's game) was just to make sure I was 100 per cent all right. I got looked over by the (team) doctors and everything seems pretty good. It was one of those things, a fluke accident, that turned out to be a lot better than it could have been."

Neil tripped over the pad of goaltender Ben Bishop during a shootout drill and went toward the boards head first, though he wound up taking the brunt of the hit with his shoulder.

"I was pretty lucky, considering how I went into the boards," he said. "After the hit, it felt like I got hit by a car or a truck or something like that. I was coming in with momentum and I wasn't really able to get anything up to defend myself. I was lucky I was able to turn my head enough that I didn't go in with the top of my head first."

Head coach Paul MacLean said he's confident Neil will be ready for the opener in New York.

"He took a light skate with us today, but we want to make sure he's ready for Thursday," he said.

In what's expected to be a physical series, the Senators surely need the presence of Neil, one of the National Hockey League's most feared hitters.

"They're a big team as well, they're physical and they come at you hard, especially in the first seven or eight minutes of every game," Neil said of the Rangers. "You've got to be able to weather the storm and be able to get a flurry of opportunities yourself."

After a 17-hour travel day Sunday that brought him from Sweden to the capital, a jet-lagged Mika Zibanejad wore a smile and a new haircut after hitting the ice with the Senators today.

While there are no plans yet to use the 18-year-old centre in the Stanley Cup playoffs, Senators management will get to see their prized prospect in game action while he's here — Zibanejad will join the Binghamton Senators this weekend and suit up for their final two games of their American Hockey League season.

"It will be good for me to play those games in Bingo and get into a game situation and all that," said Zibanejad, whose season with Djurgarden of the Swedish Elite League ended on Friday. "It's fun to be here, but I’m just taking each day at a time and trying to enjoy it. I’ll take it day by day and see what happens. I’m just happy to be here for the experience."

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