The Ottawa Senators wouldn't have it any other way in their finale at the National Hockey League rookie tournament. Both the Senators and host Toronto Maple Leafs boast 2-0-0 records, with the winner of tonight's matchup (7 p.m., Rogers TV, Team 1200) at the General Motors Centre claiming top honours at the event. And yes, a little bit of bragging rights.
"It’s a big game for us," said Senators defenceman Patrick Wiercioch
. "It’s not an official team that we’re playing, but any time you get a chance to put on a jersey and play a team that has a rivalry (with you), you want to show up and compete.
"I think we got a little taste of it this morning when our coaches came in (and talked to us). Whether or not we realize the rivalry is going to be there, it will be. The fans are going to be here and they’re going to have some loud fans in the stands, so we’ve got to be ready for that and come out hard."
Regardless of the foe, however, the Senators to a man want to go home with a spotless record, after posting earlier victories over the Pittsburgh Penguins (4-0) and Chicago Blackhawks (6-5).
"Coaches hate to lose," said Binghamton Senators bench boss Kurt Kleinendorst, who's been directing the fortunes of the Senators rookies in the tournament. "I don’t care whether it’s a rookie tournament or regular season or pre-season or playoff hockey, coaches don’t like to lose hockey games. And for the most part, neither do players.
"So we’re going to come out tonight and we’re going to do our very best. I feel like when we do that, when you’ve got a locker room like we have and you’ve got talent in the locker room like we have, winning just takes care of itself. We’re not going to make this like it’s a must win, but we’re going to go out, we’re going to play up to our potential and if we do that, we should win a hockey game."
Of course, a win over the Leafs always plays well with the team's Sens Army supporters, no matter level it's at. And nobody in the Senators camp is shying away from that.
"What we want to do is certainly identify the fact that this is a rivalry and identify the fact that, as an organization, we do want to win hockey games," said Kleinendorst. "That’s the way it should be. And at the same time, it’s going to give our guys exposure to a rivalry that, down the road at a big level, they’ll have the opportunity to take part in."Robin Lehner
, who blanked the Penguins in Saturday's tournament opener, gets the call between the pipes tonight. He's eager to lead his teammates to one last victory.
"It’s a good matchup," said Lehner. "We are both 2-0 and I think we’re two teams that are excited to play against each other. We’re two organizations that are excited to play against each other. It’s a big thing for the fans, too — they always want to win. It’s always been a rivalry, too, and it’s going to be fun to play against them.
"It’s going to be tight and it’s going to come down to little things like power play, box play (penalty killing) and that kind of thing. I just hope we can go out and do what we need to do, I hope I can play solid and we’ll see if we can get a win out of this."