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Phillips: 'It's going to take a little time' to sink in

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Senators defenceman Chris Phillips smiles as he joins his family for a photo after a mural timeline of his 14-year career in Ottawa was unveiled on the 100-level at Scotiabank Place. Also pictured are Phillips' wife, Erin, and their children Ben, 8; Zoe, 7, and Niomi, 4 (Ottawa Senators Hockey Club).

A few days before what undoubtedly will rank as one of his greatest hockey memories, Chris Phillips took a little trip down memory lane with his wife.

"We were in the office the other day where I have a plaque with a picture of my 800th game and it shows my (goal) salute that I have now," the veteran Ottawa Senators blueliner said in the minutes after he enjoyed another milestone night for the ages. "My wife (Erin) said to me it would be pretty cool if I had one of those for this game.

"I was able to deliver, so I'll give her some of the credit on that one."

Call it a typical, understated response by Phillips to what was nothing short of a remarkable evening at Scotiabank Place. On the night he became just the second player in franchise history to suit up for 1,000 games with the Senators — the first was captain Daniel Alfredsson — the 33-year-old Calgary native scored a pair of goals, including the game-winner.

Now consider that Phillips had gone nearly an entire calendar year — 346 days, or 75 games to be exact — since last finding the back of the net. He's produced four two-goal games in his career, the last on Nov. 19, 2009, when he played No. 800 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Even Phillips had to shake his head when he considered the odds of it all playing out that way.

"What can you say?" he said afterward. "It was just an unbelievable night to begin with. It just kept getting better and better. How often do I score, let alone two? And (to have) the game-winner ..."

Perhaps centre Jason Spezza said it best for a room full of teammates who were thrilled with the way a night of celebration turned out for the man they all call the "Big Rig."

"It proves there are hockey gods who are rewarding a great person," Spezza said in the aftermath of the Senators' 4-3 victory over the Nashville Predators. "He's a great teammate and a highly-regarded guy in our dressing room. To see him have the night he had ... we're all excited for him. To have it come in a big win when we've lost seven in a row makes it even better."

Earlier today, Phillips still hadn't quite come to grips with the magnitude of it all as he spoke following Senators practice at Scotiabank Place.

"It's still going to take a little time," Phillips said when asked where Thursday night might rank among his career highlights. "When I look back on it and maybe have some time or when I'm done playing, last night will certainly be one of the top ones, for sure."

The celebration is far from done. This afternoon, a large mural with a timeline of Phillips' career highlights was unveiled on the 100-level at Scotiabank Place. As he gazed at all the memories it portrayed — starting from the 1996 NHL Entry Draft, when the Senators made Phillips the No. 1 overall pick — the 6-3 defenceman found it hard to put it all into words.

"When I'm done playing and I come back to watch the team play, to see that on the wall ... it's pretty cool, that's what it is," he said. "I'm aware of everything that happened (in my career), but to have the dates on there helps me remember the exact times."

Phillips also took note of a picture from his 1997-98 rookie season that showed him wearing No. 5 — his original number with the Senators before he assumed his familiar No. 4 after Sean Hill was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes. "It's neat that they have that (photo) up there," he said.

Saturday afternoon, the Senators will hold a special tribute ceremony for Phillips in advance of their game against the Edmonton Oilers (2 p.m., CBC, Team 1200) on Hockey Day in Canada. It is a moment sure to be enjoyed by the two dozen or so friends and family who have arrived in Ottawa for the occasion and took in today's practice session.

"They don't get down here very often to watch me play," Phillips said of a group that includes his mother. "To be here for this time ... it's an exciting and special time and I think they're happy to be a part of it."

Around the boards

The Senators are going back to Craig Anderson as their starter in goal for Saturday's matchup with the Oilers. Alex Auld stopped 27-of-30 shots he faced in Thursday's win over Nashville. Before that, Anderson had recorded a career-high 18 straight starts. "I just felt it was time to play Alex, and then we'll go right back to Craig," said Ottawa head coach Paul MacLean ... Alfredsson took a "maintenance" day away from practice but is expected to be good to go on Saturday ... Other than his goalie, MacLean doesn't expect to make any lineup changes against the Oilers, meaning centre Zenon Konopka and defenceman Matt Carkner would sit out. MacLean was pleased with the work of blueliner Brian Lee against the Predators after his return from a three-week injury absence. "He played hard and I thought he gave us energy," said MacLean. "(Bobby) Butler gave us energy, (Jim) O'Brien gave us energy in the game and I thought everybody had a real solid game. Now we have to build on it."

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