Once the playoffs begin, so does the politicking.
No one wants to provide the misspoken words that end up as emotional incentive on the opposition’s bulletin board (though the Senators have certainly heard Ranger coach John Tortorella’s boast that “This team here, the New York Rangers, can beat anybody in this league.”)
So the Senators were playing it cool on Monday, latching onto the underdog label and dismissing their 3-1-0 regular-season record against the Rangers.
“I think we are the underdog,” said Jason Spezza.
“We’re playing against the top team in the conference. For us, I think we just have to play our game.
“We feel like we can play with anybody, but we definitely know they’re the top team in the conference and we have to prepare like they’re a real tough team to beat and we have a lot of respect for them.
“We’re going to be ready to go, but we know they are, too.”
Coach Paul MacLean gave the Rangers their due, pointing to Henrik Lundqvist, Marian Gaborik, and Brad Richards as three key players, and said the key for his team will be to skate, skate, skate, something it didn’t do in losing its last three games of the regular season.
“The team that played the last three games I didn’t like at all,” he said.
“If we’re basing (our chances) on that, I didn’t like that team at all.
“But for the most part, we like our team a lot. We have a lot of character on our team. The leadership group has done a great job, and when we’ve played Senators hockey, which is being efficient in our end of the rink, skating 200 feet, and attacking the net aggressively on offence, we play real good, and that’s the identity we want to make sure we continue to carry into the playoffs.”
The Senators will take a more experienced lineup into the playoffs than the Rangers, and that can only be a good thing in such a pressure-packed situation.
“I think experience in the playoffs is an important part,” he said. “You still have to play, but I think if you’re been there before it makes a difference.”
Asked about the experience of the two head coaches — Tortorella, who has coached the Rangers for the last four years and took the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Stanley Cup in 2004, and himself, in his first season as a head coach — MacLean answered quickly.
“I think experience, no matter where it is, it’s a factor,” he said.
This seemed to suggest he was giving the edge to Tortorella, which would have been the politically correct thing to do.
But MacLean, it must be remembered, has been to the Stanley Cup final three times over the last 10 years as an assistant coach, once with the Anaheim Ducks and twice with the Detroit Red Wings, winning with the Red Wings in 2008.
So he has a bit of experience, too.
NEIL OK FOR PLAYOFFS: After catching a piece of Ben Bishop’s right pad during a shootout drill last Friday and crashing heavily into the boards, Chris Neil was back for about 45 minutes before practice began but left early, just to make sure he was OK.
He’s feeling better and promised to be ready for Thursday’s first game.
“I’m feeling pretty good, and things are looking good for Thursday,” he said.
“We just want to make sure I’m going to be 100 per cent for the playoffs. That’s the goal. I was more banged up than anything. Just a freak thing.
“I was trying to show my stuff for next year’s shootouts, but it didn’t work out too good.”
Matt Carkner also had the day off. MacLean said he had a “boo-boo” to rest.
TARGETING KARLSSON: The buzz is that Tortorella is hard at work devising a singular strategy to neutralize Erik Karlsson, who led Ottawa’s offence from the blue line with 19 goals and 59 assists.
Stop the presses.
Like, who wouldn’t?
It’s what teams do in the playoffs. It’s the No. 1 piece of advice on the first page of the playoff handbook, and it will cut both ways.
“Obviously we’re going to be do the same thing against their best players,” said Karlsson, who professed to be unconcerned.
“But it should be a good challenge for me and the whole team, and we’re looking forward to it. Hopefully we match up well against them.”
MacLean didn’t seem to be concerned, either.
“I mean, it’s not brand new that Karlsson is going to be a target for their forecheckers,” he said.
“But he’s handled it real well to this point in the season, and I think he will again.”
Jason Spezza said he expects to see a lot of people in his face, too, but it won’t be something he’s not used to.
“We’ve seen it all year,” he said.
THE ZIBANEJAD QUESTION: Mika Zibanejad arrived here Sunday at 1 p.m. after 17 hours of travel from Stockholm.
He practised with the team on Monday, will practice with them again today, and then is tentatively slated to play two games in Binghamton this weekend.
But MacLean said the Senators are checking with the NHL to see if he is eligible to play with the Senators, leaving the door open for a possible appearance during the playoffs.
“There’s a game on Friday and Saturday, if I’m going to finish the season there, and well see what happens after that,” he said.
FIRST LOOK AT LINES: Here’s how the lines looked in practice on Monday:
- Milan Michalek-Jason Spezza-Colin Greening;
- Nick Foligno-Kyle Turris-Daniel Alfredsson;
- Zack Smith-Jesse Winchester-Chris Neil;
- Kaspars Daugavins-Jim O’Brien-Erik Condra.
That would leave Zenon Kenopka, Rob Klinkhammer, and Bobby Butler as the extras.
On defence, it was Filip Kuba-Erik Karlsson, Chris Phillips-Matt Gilroy, and Jared Cowen-Sergei Gonchar. Matt Carkner was the extra.