OTTAWA - The Ottawa Senators open the NHL playoffs against the top-seeded team in the East in one of the most historic arenas in the league.
But the Senators haven't been intimidated by the New York Rangers and Madison Square Garden this season.
The eighth-place Senators won the season series 3-1, including both road games. If they hope to have any success in the best-of-seven series against New York, they will need to take advantage of starting on the road.
Game 1 is Thursday with Game 2 scheduled for Saturday. The series shifts to Ottawa on Monday.
"When you start on the road if you can get off to a good start it can put pressure on the other team," Ottawa forward Jason Spezza said Monday. "We feel we can play with anybody, but we know they’re the top team."
Overall, Ottawa was better on the road in the regular season (21-14-6) than at home (20-17-4). The Senators have the worst home record of any of the 16 teams to qualify for the post-season.
Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson realizes getting by the Rangers will be a big challenge, but he admits playoffs are a time for upsets.
He's experienced it before.
In 1998, the eighth-place Senators eliminated the New Jersey Devils in six games.
"We go in believing we can win, but we also realize it’s going to take a huge effort from everyone and everyone’s going to have to play well," said Alfredsson.
The series will hold extra importance for the longtime captain given it could be his final trip to the playoffs should he choose to retire following the end of the season.
"I’m going to treat it as such (my last playoffs)," said Alfredsson. "Who knows even if I play next year if we would get back to the playoffs so you just want to make sure you enjoy it and make the most of it and just play your hearts out and don’t let anything wanting at the end of it."
New York will need to minimize Erik Karlsson’s contributions. Karlsson, who led all defenceman in scoring with 78 points this season, is expecting to see some extra attention, but says he’s used to it.
"I’ve got to be prepared to get hit all the time," said Karlsson. "It’s fine by me as long as everything is fair and straight. It’s part of the game and something I grew up with and I’ll deal with it."
The Senators will need an outstanding performance by Craig Anderson in goal. The Rangers most definitely have the advantage with Henrik Lundqvist, who posted career numbers this season with 39 wins, a 1.97 goals-against average and .930 save percentage. Lundqvist also has the edge when it comes to playoff experience with a 15-20 record through 35 games. In comparison, Anderson has just six playoff games to his credit when, as a member of the Colorado Avalanche in 2010, he faced the San Jose Sharks where he went 2-4.
"You work hard for 82 games to get to where we are now and you start fresh," said Anderson. "Everyone is on an even ground. You get to push yourself to another level and that’s what’s kind of cool about it."
Only Alfredsson and Chris Phillips remain from that 1998 team that upset New Jersey, but the Senators boast a number of players with post-season experience, and while head coach Paul MacLean has playoff experience as a player and an assistant coach this will be his first experience as a head coach.
"I think experience in the playoffs is an important part, but you still have to play, but if you’ve been there before I think it makes a difference," said MacLean.
The Senators head into the playoffs on a three-game losing streak and while MacLean didn’t like the way his team played to end the regular season he has confidence in their abilities if they stick to the structure that allowed them to make it to the playoffs in the first place.
"We like our team a lot and think we have a lot of character," said MacLean. "When we play Senators hockey which would be to be efficient in our own end of the rink, skate 200 feet and attack the net aggressively on offence we play real good and we win games. That’s the type of identity that we want to make sure we continue to carry into the playoffs. If we play that way we usually have success.”
Notes: RW Chris Neil is expected to play in Thursday’s series opener. Neil was injured in practice last week and missed the final game of the regular season. C Mika Zibanejad, who spent the season in Sweden with Djurgarden of the Swedish Elite League, practised with the Senators today, but is expected to be sent to the AHL’s Binghamton Senators. D Matt Carkner missed practice to deal with a minor undisclosed injury.