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Rare faceoff for Sens, Blue Jackets

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
They’ve got a bit of momentum on their side now.

And the Ottawa Senators want to ride it for all it’s worth as the National Hockey League’s regular season begins to wind toward its conclusion.

Clearly, they’re hoping Tuesday’s dramatic 3-2 shootout triumph over the Philadelphia Flyers can be the springboard toward better days ahead – both on the scoreboard and in the quality of their play. The next step: A rare appearance by the Columbus Blue Jackets at Scotiabank Place on Thursday night (7:30 p.m., A-Channel, Team 1200).

“We’re in a position now where we’ve got to start playing a little more desperate,” Senators centre Mike Fisher said after the team’s pre-game skate this morning. “I thought we played pretty well against Philadelphia. There was a little bit more emotion and excitement in the building and we’ve just got to build on that and start playing like the team we know we are.”

Head coach John Paddock would surely appreciate a repeat of the start the Senators got on Tuesday night. They built a 2-0 lead before the Flyers rallied to force overtime.

“You should dictate the flow and the momentum in your own rink,” he said. “And when you do that… it enhances your chances. I guess what I’m saying is, be ready (to play).”

The Blue Jackets aren’t exactly a familiar sight here for the Senators or their fans. Columbus hasn’t played at Scotiabank Place since Nov. 13, 2003, when the Senators posted a 5-2 victory over what was then a fourth-year franchise. It’s a more dangerous bunch now under coach Ken Hitchcock, though, with goaltender Pascal Leclaire and sniper Rick Nash helping drive the Jackets into playoff contention in the Western Conference.

“It’s a team from the West, so it’s a game where you can steal two points,” said forward Cory Stillman about tonight’s matchup. “I’ve played them once before this year (as a Carolina Hurricane) and it’s a team that works hard.

“And they’re looking at the same thing. It’s an out-of-division opponent, and if we can get two points, it’s going to add up. They’re also fighting for a playoff spot.”

Added centre Jason Spezza: “It’s a little different. You don’t know the personnel quite as well as teams in your own division. But with video now and all the teaching, and you can watch (other teams’ games) on TV… it’s not too big of a mystery anymore.”

Every game is a big game now for the Senators, who share top spot in the Eastern Conference with the Montreal Canadiens and New Jersey Devils. All have 75 points (Ottawa owns a game in hand), two better than the Pittsburgh Penguins, who play in Montreal tonight and entertain the Senators on Saturday (3 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).

In other words, expect a bit more scoreboard watching tonight. And with the calendar about to turn to March, the playoffs are all but around the corner.

“There’s 22 games left,” said Fisher. “There’s light at the end of the tunnel as far as the regular season, and we’re in a good spot now. We’re tied for first and we want to be coming in (to the playoffs) playing the best hockey we can, like we did last year – coming in hot and playing well.”

And that, he added, will go hand-in-hand with where the Senators eventually finish in the torrid Eastern Conference race.

“Our biggest focus is going into the playoffs playing our best hockey,” said Fisher. “Whether we’re first or fourth or whatever, we want to make sure we’re firing on all cylinders. We want to be a solid and hard team to play against.

“If we’re on top of our game and we’re playing well, chances are we’re going to finish first.”

Around the boards

Winger Chris Neil (flu) practised this morning and is expected to be in the lineup tonight … Ray Emery (11-10-3) makes his third straight start in goal … Fewer than 500 tickets remain for the game … Senators defenceman Luke Richardson was in the Blue Jackets lineup the last time Columbus played at Scotiabank Place … The Sens and Jackets have only met six times previously, the least number of games Ottawa has played against any NHL opponent. The Senators are 3-1-2-0 in the all-time series.

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