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Senators finding right finish

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
There’s no third-period magic underway here, they’ll tell you.

But whatever it is behind it all, the Ottawa Senators would surely love to bottle it up and save it for every third period they play the rest of this season.

“Good question,” Senators forward Antoine Vermette said with a grin when asked what’s caused the team to produce major scoring outbursts in the final 20 minutes the past two nights. “If I knew the answer, we’d try to reproduce that every night.

“We’ve been scoring a lot of goals the last two games in the third period. (But) there’s no such thing as magic (about it).”

Monday night, the Senators unleashed a four-goal assault on the Montreal Canadiens in the final period. Granted, that one was a lost cause by that point – the Habs owned a commanding 7-1 lead after 40 minutes. But Tuesday night’s five-goal outburst in Buffalo turned a 3-1 third-period deficit into a resounding 6-3 victory that pushed the Senators closer to officially wrapping up a playoff berth in the tight Eastern Conference.

“We’re showing we can come back and win games,” said centre Jason Spezza. “I think we’d like to be in the position where we’re up in games and just play tight defence. But we’re starting to get that feeling back that we can come back on teams.”

In head coach/general manager Bryan Murray’s eyes, that’s the kind of quality that typified, in a lot of ways, the Senators team that roared all the way to the Stanley Cup final last season.

“Two games in a row, we’ve had terrific third periods,” he said after a spirited workout Wednesday morning at Scotiabank Place. “Last year, I felt so good about third periods that if we were ever tied or one goal down, I knew we were going to win the hockey game.

“I hadn’t felt that until lately but now I see the conditioning, the poise with the puck is there and I’d like to think that will be the case going forward.”

Poise was a popular word used around the dressing room to define the National Hockey League debut of defenceman Brian Lee on Tuesday night. He saw more than 18 minutes of ice time, saved a sure goal with a skate block on the goal-line at a key point in the game and hardly looked the part of a nervous 20-year-old rookie.

“So much fun,” Lee, who turned 21 today, said about his initial NHL game. “I thought it was a good first game. Hopefully, I can build on that and get better with every game here on out… It was a nice early birthday present.”

Even after one game, Murray believes the team’s No. 1 pick in the 2005 NHL entry draft can be a difference maker in the playoffs with his puck-moving skills.

“I would say he’s going to play fairly regular here now,” he said. “We were a little nervous about putting him in the lineup, a young player and all that. But obviously, he doesn’t bring any nervousness to the table at all.

“We like him, we think he’s a talented kid and come playoff time, he’ll add another dimension to our team.”

Lee’s parents will make the trip from Moorhead, Minn., to watch him play against the Sabres on Thursday night at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., A-Channel, Team 1200). They were the first people he called after Tuesday’s game.

“They were just so happy for me, so excited,” he said. “It was nice to hear their voices.”

It would be nice to have home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs, and that's still very possible for the Senators, at least for the first round. But captain Daniel Alfredsson said that's not what matters most.

"We would love to (gain home-ice advantage)," he said. "We're going to try. But I think our biggest focus is on how we play. Try to get a little better each game. If we do, I think that will give us some confidence going into the playoffs."

Around the boards

Veteran defenceman Wade Redden (knee), whose absence because of injury opened the door for Lee’s debut, skated in practice this morning but said it’s too soon to declare himself ready to return Thursday. “Compared to yesterday, it felt a lot better,” he said. “We’ll see how it feels tomorrow and go from there. Yeah, there’s a chance I’ll play.” … Martin Gerber (29-15-3) makes his 13th straight start tomorrow night. A Senators victory would give Gerber 100 career wins … Lee wasn’t the only birthday boy today. Veteran defenceman Luke Richardson turned the calendar on his 39th birthday.

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