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Senators face crucial test

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
In this case, at least, seven won’t be heaven for the Ottawa Senators.

The stakes – in terms of winning a Northeast Division title, that is – couldn’t be higher for the Senators when they face off against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on Monday night (7:30 p.m., A-Channel, Team 1200).

After weekend play, the Habs hold a five-point lead over the Senators (who own a game in hand) for top spot in the Northeast. Ottawa head coach/general manager Bryan Murray acknowledged Sunday that if the lead grows to seven with a Montreal win tonight, the Senators will be hard-pressed to make up the deficit – especially with only one more “four-point” meeting left with the Canadiens the rest of the way.

In Montreal, it’s being billed as the biggest game of the season for the Habs, who are only 1-5-0 against the Senators so far in 2007-08.

“That’s a real compliment to them,” said Murray after the Senators’ pre-game skate this morning. “The fact that they’re leading the division at this point in time with a chance to wrap it up… I think they’ve played well and played consistently well. They’ve got their whole game in order and we’re trying to get our game in order.”

And, much as the Senators would like a division title for better playoff seeding, Murray admitted getting his team in position to succeed in the post-season is the priority now.

“We’re just a good hockey team (right now) that has to find another level if we’re really going to be a contending team in the East.

“I’m just trying to find a way to get this team to play consistent, to get away from all the penalties we’ve been taking and probably the turnovers we’ve been giving and get ourselves ready to be in the playoffs.”

McAmmond out, McGrattan in

Forward Dean McAmmond, who suffered a quadriceps contusion from a slash he took during the loss to the Leafs on Saturday, won’t suit up against the Canadiens tonight. That means Brian McGrattan re-enters the lineup along with Randy Robitaille, who’ll take the spot of injured Chris Kelly (leg).

While Cody Bass came off the injured reserve list Sunday, Murray said he didn’t consider inserting the rookie forward into the lineup.

“He hasn’t had any real skating yet,” said Murray. “To put him in against the Montreal Canadiens in a fast game would do him a disservice. I wanted Cody to have a real hard skate today and then tomorrow we’ll look at him.”

Around the boards

Martin Gerber (28-15-3) makes his 11th straight start in goal tonight, likely against Canadiens rookie Carey Price … After tonight’s game, the Senators head to Buffalo, where they’ll face the Sabres on Tuesday night (7 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200). Then those two teams are at Scotiabank Place for a rematch Thursday evening (7:30 p.m., A-Channel, Team 1200).

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