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Senators aiming to bring home split from New York

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
If it was a minor case of stage fright, consider that completely filed away.

The newest members of Ottawa Senators lineup know all about the intensity of the Stanley Cup playoffs now. Let's just say the opening act on one of the National Hockey League's biggest stages — the famed Madison Square Garden in New York — has done plenty to erase some of those big show butterflies.

Now it's on to Game 2 of the Eastern Conference quarter-final tonight at MSG against the New York Rangers, who hold a 1-0 edge in the best-of-seven series after Thursday's 4-2 triumph over the Senators. While five Ottawa players entered that game with no previous NHL post-season experience, they're pretty versed in the intensity of it all already.

"You’re a little nervous and you don’t know what to expect in your first NHL playoff game," said Senators forward Erik Condra, who accounted for one of Ottawa's two goals in Game 1. "Now that it’s over, we can just play hockey, hopefully. I expect more intensity and great atmosphere (tonight). They’ll come out and play a physical game, just like they did before, and we’ll come out and try to match that."

While a number of the Senators' playoff newbies went through the grind of winning a Calder Cup crown with the American Hockey League's Binghamton Senators last season, they've quickly discovered that it's a whole different animal at the NHL level. Indeed, it's something that has to be seen — and experienced — to be believed.

"We thought the experience they had in Binghamton was going to help them (in Game 1) and it didn’t," Senators head coach Paul MacLean said following his team's pre-game skate earlier today. "So I would think this experience in the Stanley Cup playoffs and in playing games ... that should help them. They should have grown as players after the game (Thursday) night."

After falling into a 4-0 hole, the Senators did get two late goals from Condra and captain Daniel Alfredsson — something they hope to seize upon in terms of grabbing the early momentum tonight.

"We got the nerves out and we took what we could from that game," said centre Zack Smith. "There’s some parts (of our game) we need to improve on and there were some times we were a little bit tentative and we let them dictate the physical part of the game. We’ve had a little bit of time to review things and we know what to do now."

The way hard-nosed Senators winger Chris Neil sees it, that means setting the physical tone early, instead of letting the Blueshirts be the ones to do most of the initiating.

"We want to dictate a little more than we did the last game," said the veteran Neil, who aims to lead the charge alongside Smith and bruising winger Colin Greening. "We want to come out and establish a good forecheck, get in on them hard and play them hard. What they did to us the first part of the (first) game with their physicality, we want to do that to them.

"We want to dictate a little more of that part of the game and establish it ourselves, not wait to respond to them. We want them to respond to us."

There is no shortage of confidence among the Senators that they can get the job done.

"We finished off the last game pretty well and we’re looking to build on that going into tonight," said forward Jesse Winchester. "Maybe we were a little bit nervous (in Game 1), but we’re ready to go now. We realize the challenge before us and we’re eager to play our way out of the 1-0 hole we’re in."

Added Smith: "We’re still pretty positive. It’s only Game 1 and it’s a seven-game series. There’s some positive things to take from the last game and we’re excited to play tonight’s game."

Around the boards

Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek skated together during the pre-game skate, but MacLean isn't committed yet to starting the game that way. "We’re looking at that, but it’s also something we can go to during the game that we’re comfortable with," he said. "So we’re not sure yet whether we’ll start the game that way." ... No lineup changes from Game 1 for the Senators, meaning blueliner Matt Carkner, along with forwards Zenon Konopka, Bobby Butler and Rob Klinkhammer, are tonight's scratches ... Fewer than 300 tickets remain for Game 3 of the series, to be played Monday night at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).

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