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Sens, Wings primed for showdown

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Game-day audio - Head coach John Paddock (audio) and captain Daniel Alfredsson (audio) talk about facing Dominik Hasek and the Red Wings after this morning's practice.

The numbers suggest the Detroit Red Wings are clearly the National Hockey League’s top dog.

But the Ottawa Senators get a prime opportunity to stake a claim of their own when the league’s two conference leaders square off tonight at Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200) in their only meeting of the regular season.

By all accounts, it should be a doozy.

The Red Wings (33-8-4) own a commanding 16-point lead over the Dallas Stars, their closest pursuers in the Western Conference. Their edge in the Central Division: A whopping 21 points over the St. Louis Blues.

Even the Senators (28-10-4), who are seven points in front of the New Jersey Devils at the top of the Eastern Conference standings, find themselves in the wake of the high-flying Wings.

“They’ve got 10 more points than us,” Senators head coach John Paddock said Friday when asked which conference leader is the best. “If they remain there and finish first overall, then they’re the better team.

“As of right now, (the standings) say that they are.”

No time like the present, though, for the Senators to make a statement in front of a coast-to-coast Hockey Night in Canada audience.

“They’re absolutely the best in the West and we’ve proven, I think, that we’re the best in the East through the first half,” said Senators forward Dany Heatley. “It’s always a good test – we had a good battle with them last year.

“They’ve been around the top of the Western Conference for a lot of years. It’s going to be a good battle.”

Added centre Jason Spezza: “We don’t play these guys too often, they’re No. 1 overall right now and they’re playing pretty well. I’m sure they’re going to use it as a measuring stick, too, to see how they match up against us.”

Last season at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, the Senators carted home a 3-2 victory despite being outshot 45-22. But Ray Emery was a standout for the Senators on that December night, outduelling former Ottawa goaltender Dominik Hasek.

Looks like fans at Scotiabank Place will be in for the same matchup again Saturday night. Paddock has named Emery his starter, while the word is that the veteran Hasek will tend goal for the Wings. If so, it would be Hasek’s first appearance in Ottawa since his tenure here ended after one abbreviated season.

“It’s a game that we’ll definitely get up for,” Emery said Friday. “(The Red Wings) definitely have been on fire so far. I like playing against good teams, so I’m glad I’m getting the chance to play.

“(Hasek) is a legend and kind of a buddy of mine from when he was kicking around here. It adds to it.”

Heatley knows what the Senators need to do to pull out a win Saturday night – especially on the heels of tight extra-time wins over two struggling teams, the Tampa Bay Lightning (4-3 in overtime) and Buffalo Sabres (3-2 after a shootout).

“In the last few weeks, we’ve been off the same page at times in games,” he said. “But when we’re going (well), we’re all skating and we’re always coming back.

“We’re playing defence as a five-man unit and we’re playing offence as a five-man unit, and we’re going to have to do that (Saturday).”

While the Senators have tried to downplay the significance of Saturday’s game, Paddock admitted there is a sense of excitement about this all-too-rare matchup.

“We’ve downplayed it because I don’t think it’s any more important than our conference games, but there’s an excitement because they have the most points and we’d like to take a run at that,” he said. “We want (our players) to be ready to play 82 games. It’s impossible. But this is one of those games they’ll be ready to play.”

Fewer than 50 tickets remain for the game.

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