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Second season now awaits youngest Senators

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Senators forward Bobby Butler is enthused about the opportunity to continue his season with the Binghamton Senators, who are headed to the American Hockey League playoffs for the first time since the 2004-05 season (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).

They'll take one more bow for the home folks at Scotiabank Place tonight.

Then several of the youngest players on the Senators roster will cast their eyes southward toward Binghamton, N.Y., and what they hope will be a long, fruitful playoff run with Ottawa's American Hockey League affiliate.

When the B-Sens nailed down their first AHL playoff berth in six seasons by edging the Norfolk Admirals 2-1 in overtime on Wednesday night, it guaranteed more hockey for seven players who'll be in the Ottawa lineup tonight against the Montreal Canadiens at Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., CBC, team 1200). That group includes Colin Greening, Erik Condra, André Benoit, David Hale and Derek Smith — all of whom were recalled from Binghamton this morning — along with forwards Bobby Butler and Zack Smith.

"I'm looking forward to playing hockey for a couple more months," said Butler, who started the season with the B-Sens but has been in Ottawa with the big club full-time since Feb. 9. "If all the guys get on the same page when we get down there, we’ll be good to go. They’ve been playing well (in Binghamton), so we’ve just got to come down and get back to playing with those guys."

While players such as Butler, Greening and Condra have logged close to 90 games between Ottawa and Binghamton this season, they're eager for plenty more.

"I definitely feel excited for it," said Butler, a 23-year-old from Marlborough, Mass. "I’ve got my second wind and I’m ready for it, so it should be exciting. I’m ready to get going down there."

So, too, no doubt, are the playoff-starved hockey fans in Binghamton, who last saw post-season hockey during the 2004-05 season, when the National Hockey League's campaign was wiped out by a lockout.

"They’re going to be excited," said Butler. "They’re going to be one of the best crowds, I bet, down there because they haven’t had (playoffs in Binghamton) in so long. We can use that to our advantage."

The playoff crucible also figures to add to the wealth of experience many of them gained at the NHL level this season, all of which can't hurt when they battle for full-time jobs during Senators training camp next fall.

"It’s good for them," said Senators head coach Cory Clouston. "It’ll help them with the experience and it’ll help them with their development as a player, both on and off the ice. Their character (will be tested by) putting them in those situations, those pressure situations. We expect that will make them better players for next year, but it’s not going to guarantee anyone a spot on this club."

Tonight's matchup with the Habs, meanwhile, marks the season finale at Scotiabank Place for the Senators, who close out their 2010-11 regular schedule Friday in Boston against the Bruins (1 p.m., CBC, Team 1200). They'd like to send the Sens Army faithful into the off-season with a victory.

"The fans have been great (with) the support they've been giving us, even though we've been out of it for a little bit," said centre Jason Spezza. "They keep showing up and cheering for us, so we want to finish well. If we could have a good finish tonight, it would be good for us and good for the fans."

Around the boards

Derek Smith's return to the lineup tonight will mark his eighth game in a Senators jersey this season. "He’s come a long way in the last year," Clouston said of the 26-year-old blueliner. "He had an excellent season for them down in Bingo. He just feels and looks a little more comfortable when he’s on the ice with us. His confidence level is a lot higher than it has been in the past and you see that in his on-ice performance" ... Craig Anderson makes the start in goal for Ottawa tonight, while former Senators stopper Alex Auld goes between the pipes for the Canadiens ... Montreal leads the season series between the team 4-1-0 ... With one home game to go, the Senators' average attendance for the season sits at 18,343, including 15 sellouts.

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