The friendly rivalry is on the verge of becoming something nastier

It’s time for the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens to take their relationship to the next level.

Much of Marc Methot's family grew up as fans of the Montreal Canadiens.

It’s time for the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens to take their relationship to the next level.

“We have a good rivalry with them, but you need to have a playoff series to really build that stronger — I don’t like to use word ‘hate’ because that’s too strong, but — stronger resentment, I guess,” said Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson.

Indeed, while there has always been a general excitement surrounding Senators-Canadiens games — the Senators pulled off a monumental upset by defeating the Canadiens in Ottawa’s return to the NHL in 1992 – Alfredsson acknowledges something has always been missing.

Now, here that something comes, beginning Thursday at the Bell Centre in Montreal.

If you believe Senators coach Paul MacLean, the reason the Senators left Ottawa for Montreal on Tuesday – a day earlier than the normal routine for a Thursday game – it’s so the team can become absorbed as soon as possible in what figures to be a hockey mad environment.

The Senators will practice in Montreal Wednesday, taking in the sights and sounds of a city which once expected a Stanley Cup parade every season but is now returning to the playoffs following an abysmal bottom-of-the-Eastern-Conference performance during the 2011-12 season.

“It’s important for us to get there and get involved in it,” MacLean said following Tuesday’s practice at Scotiabank Place. “The atmosphere is going to be outstanding. We want to get there as soon as we can, get ourselves immersed in it.”

The early story lines revolve around the match-up between goaltenders Craig Anderson of the Senators and Carey Price of the Canadiens, as well as Senators defenceman Erik Karlsson versus Canadiens counterpart P.K. Subban. But we all know that once the puck drops and the hitting starts, new games within games will develop and the animosities between players will grow and grow the longer the series goes on.

There’s also the intriguing question of where fans’ allegiances lie, considering the teams are based only two hours apart and many current Senators fans were once Canadiens fans.

Jean-Gabriel Pageau, the Senators sparkplug who scored a pair of pivotal goals down the stretch for after being recalled from Binghamton of the American Hockey League, acknowledges that it was only natural for Canadiens games to be on TV as he was growing up in Gatineau.

Defenceman Marc Methot says that much of his extended family grew up as fans of the bleu-blanc-rouge.

“My Dad may have grown up as a Habs fan,” he said. “He’s a French Canadian, from Eastern Ontario, so he was a Habs fan. My mom, I don’t think she was even a hockey fan growing up, but we’re pretty divided in our family, but it’s something I’ve got to deal with. There are a lot of French Canadians in my family. I’m going to have to convert them to Senators fans.”

On a personal level, playing for the Senators in the playoffs – let alone against the Canadiens – is a dream for Methot, born and raised in Ottawa. He played in only four playoff games as a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets and was traded here for Nick Foligno last July.

“I’m so pumped and jacked up about this,” he said. “Just thinking about it gets me excited. It’s pretty much the only thing that has been on my mind.”

Senators coach Paul MacLean, meanwhile, is doing his part to build up the history of the Canadiens in the minds of his own players and Senators fans.

“It’s excellent,” he said of the match-up. “Playing the New York Rangers last year was unique in its own way, but this is totally unique again, in a different way. When we all grew up – I mean, it’s the Montreal Canadiens – it’s way different than the Rangers. It’s a great opportunity for our franchise and our organization to be able to play one of the most storied franchises in the league. Really, it is the most storied franchise in the league.”

No question, there’s plenty of gamesmanship involved in the MacLean message. He was doing everything possible Tuesday to build up the Canadiens as the colossal favourites in the series.

“They won the Northeast Division, they’re second overall in the East (during the regular season), they’re the Montreal Canadiens.”

In case you forgot, the difference between the second-seed Canadiens and the seventh-seed Senators during the regular season was a grand total of seven points.

Tags: , , ,

What do you think? Leave a comment