Not 'just another game' at home for Senators tonight
With chance to advance, Ottawa focused on closing out Rangers with Game 6 win
|After missing the previous three games with a concussion, Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson is good to go for Game 6 against the New York Rangers tonight at Scotiabank Place (Photo by Matthew Healy/OSHC).
The hockey buzz in the nation's capital is already at a fever pitch, sure to hit an even mightier crescendo in just a few short hours. And their captain says he's ready to rejoin the playoff party, just as a new Swedish hockey hero began to make his presence felt.
Just another game day at Scotiabank Place for the Ottawa Senators?
Where to begin in the lead up to Game 6 of the Eastern Conference quarter-final, set to be played before a sold-out house at Scotiabank Place, eager and anxious to party like it's 2007 all over again — the last time a Senators hockey ticket was so red-hot in this town. Then again, it's been that long since Ottawa last saw the second round of the National Hockey League playoffs, but that's where these plucky Senators will indeed find themselves with another victory over the New York Rangers this evening (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).
Just another game? Not a chance.
Not with the Senators this close to shocking the New York Rangers, the East's top team during the regular season, but a squad staring at a 3-2 deficit right now. And they know full well this potential close-out game will be the toughest yet in what as been an intense, grinding series.
"You know the last game is the hardest game to win and you know we're going to see (the Rangers') best game tonight," Senators centre Jason Spezza said in a dressing room jammed with media following their pre-game skate earlier today. "You know that it's going to be more intense and you know there's going to be more at stake. You know that you have the opportunity to move on, so I wouldn't say you treat it like another game.
"You'll prepare the same way and you get ready, but you understand the circumstances around it and you understand this is your chance to move on because you've got a team on the ropes. And you also understand that you're going to get that team's most desperate game because they don't want to go home."
The Senators already got a big boost today when captain Daniel Alfredsson, who's missed the last three games with a concussion, confirmed he's good to go tonight. There is also a chance Ottawa might insert forward Jakob Silfverberg — the Swedish Elite League's playoff and regular-season MVP, who led Brynas IF to its first championship in 13 years — into the mix. The 21-year-old native of Gavle, Sweden, took the pre-game skate and head coach Paul MacLean said afterward "we're considering playing Silfverberg tonight."
But it's the guaranteed return of Alfredsson that has put an extra jump in the Senators' step.
"He's the captain and he's been here for a long time, so it means a lot to us," said MacLean. "He can make our power play better and just having him in there is going to be a good shot for our team."
Added Spezza: "It's a huge boost for our club. To put a guy like that in our lineup at this point in the series is definitely a huge boost."
Alfredsson, who's watched from the sidelines as his teammates built a 3-2 series lead, wants to help put them over the top tonight and into the second round.
"We've been playing extremely well," said Alfredsson. "What I bring to the table is poise with the puck, making plays and making things happen offensively. It's also important for me to get in and be gritty right away. Get involved physically. That's the style we've been playing and been successful playing."
He believes it'll take more of the same to finish off the Rangers tonight. The thought that a loss would mean a return trip to New York for Game 7 on Thursday is out of mind for now.
"Every game becomes more important as you go further in the series," said Alfredsson. "You just have to play every game like it's the biggest game of the year as you go on here. That's what we're going to do. Give ourselves a chance to win and if we do, we move on. If not, we'll handle that, too.
"We're just going to focus on what we want to do. We wanted to put ourselves in position to be in the playoffs, first and foremost, and then compete hard in the playoffs. We're doing that, too, and we want to keep going."
Added forward Chris Neil: "The close-out game is the hardest game. (The Rangers) are desperate and they're going to be playing hard. For us, we've got to come out and do more of what we did the last game. Keep it simple, be disciplined for the most part ... that's what we want to do."
Around the boards
With the elimination of the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday night, the Senators are the only Canadian team left in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs. But being "Canada's team" isn't at the top of their priority list just yet. "You don't think too much about that kind of stuff," said Spezza. "It isn't one of your goals to say 'we want to be the last Canadian team around.' You want to be the last team standing, period. That's all we want to do, keep focusing on winning our series and moving on" ... When the Senators inked free-agent centre Zenon Konopka last summer, his faceoff ability was one of the former Ottawa 67's star's biggest attractions. It's paying off big time now. Konopka has won 34-of-47 draws and his 72.3 per cent success rate is tops in the NHL during the post-season.