|Senators goaltender Craig Anderson says players "thrive on someone telling you that you can't win." (Photo by Matthew Healy/OSHC).
One more time, the road warriors in the Ottawa Senators dressing room are prepared to go to battle — this time, with their season hanging in the balance.
It'll be a winner-take-all affair on Thursday night, when the Senators and New York Rangers settle their Eastern Conference quarter-final with a dramatic Game 7 at Madison Square Garden (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200) on one of the biggest stages in hockey.
While that venue would seem to favour the homestanding Blueshirts, it's worth noting that road teams have won four of the six games in this series. And visiting teams, overall, are enjoying an usually high level of success in these Stanley Cup playoffs. Entering play tonight, road teams held a stunning 28-17 edge, with a .622 winning percentage.
Such has been the competitive level of the hockey in the opening round that the eighth-seeded Senators and No. 1 seeded Rangers were separated by 17 points in the final regular-season standings, but four of the six games in this series have been one-goal affairs.
"It's been my experience that there isn't home ice (advantage)," Senators head coach Paul MacLean said in explaining the road teams' success level in the current post-season. "In the playoffs, it's a different game every night and it's hard. Teams are real close and it's hard to dominate on home ice in the playoffs. I think the teams are just too good."
Senators goaltender Craig Anderson points to the competitive level of each individual player, especially with so much on the line every night these days.
"There's something to be said about going into the other team's building and upsetting the home fans," said Anderson. "You thrive on pressure, you thrive on someone telling you that you can't win. When the other team's fans tell you that you can't win, it's one of those 'I'm going to show you and beat you in your own building.'
"That's a hockey player's mentality, that's how it works. We're all pretty competitive guys."
Competitive would certainly describe the Senators' play away from home all season. Ottawa's road record was superior to its standing at home throughout the campaign, and the Senators are 4-1-0 at MSG in 2011-12 — including wins in Game 2 and 5 in this series. And yes, that's a reason this team heads into Game 7 with a quiet confidence.
"It's huge," defenceman Jared Cowen said about the road success the Senators have enjoyed in New York in particular. "If we'd only won home games (in the series), it would be way different. But we know going there ... we've had success there all year. So it's not a matter of us going in there and feeling comfortable. It's all about us."
Added centre Zack Smith: "As soon as (Monday's 3-2 loss in Game 6 at Scotiabank Place) was over, we were saying let's go back there and take one in Game 7. We've had some success there and we've played some good hockey there. All season, we've been good on the road. Especially now, in Game 7, there's no doubt we're going to be ready."
Past history aside, it really does come down to one game now. Winner take all. Loser goes home. And the Senators like their chances of moving on to Round 2.
"We feel like we're in a good position," said centre Jason Spezza. "We have a real good opportunity to upset the best team in the East. We feel like we've had a good series so far and been real close. It's going to come down to one game and anything can happen."
Said defenceman Erik Karlsson: "It's all or nothing for both teams and I think we're going to have to play with some desperation, be very focused and don't get ahead of ourselves. If we lose this game, our season is over and it's the same thing for (the Rangers). We've got to want it more than they do."
Anderson put it even more simply, saying "we have an opportunity here to do something great."
Around the boards
The Senators are opening Scotiabank Place for Game 7, with fans having the opportunity to watch the series-deciding contest on the Bell HD Screen. The 'Sens in 7 Red Rally' begins at 6 p.m. Parking and admission are free, with fans encouraged to bring donations for the Ottawa Food Bank. As well, Bert's, the official Sens Army headquarters, will be open for Game 7 starting at 5 p.m. ... The importance of special teams Thursday night is underscored by this fact: The Rangers have recorded just one even-strength goal in the last 195:07 of the series ... With the conference semifinals are set in the West (St. Louis-Los Angeles and Nashville-Phoenix), the East won't be finalized until Thursday, when the Florida Panthers and New Jersey Devils also settle their series. Game 7 between the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals goes tonight in Beantown ... Finalists for the James Norris Trophy, awarded annually to the NHL's best defenceman, will be announced on Thursday morning. Expect Karlsson, who led all blueliners with 78 points, to be among that group ... Centre Zenon Konopka and defenceman Matt Carkner both took "maintenance" days off practice but made the trip to New York. Rookie defenceman Mark Borowiecki, an Ottawa native, also joined the Senators' group of players that headed to the Big Apple on Wednesday.