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Sens' Emery, Senators expecting rough ride from Sabres fans

The Canadian Press
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Ottawa Senators head coach Bryan Murray (left) speaks to his team during a practice. (CP PHOTO/Jonathan Hayward) Author: The Hockey News

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Sens' Emery, Senators expecting rough ride from Sabres fans

The Canadian Press
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Rather than intimidate, however, the Senators say the fans in Buffalo will serve to motivate their effort to steal a victory in Thursday's opening game of the best-of-seven series 7 p.m. ET and take away the Sabres' home-ice advantage.

"I like that, it gets you going a bit more," Emery said Wednesday before the Senators left Ottawa. "You can kind of feed off of that. Even if they're screaming obscenities at you, it kinds of gets you motivated and pumped up."

The Senators goaltender can expect some special attention from the Sabres' faithful after he fanned the flames of an already heated rivalry earlier this week with some wisecracks about how he would have preferred to have been headed for Manhattan to play the New York Rangers rather than making the trip further upstate and the more subdued environs of Buffalo.

Those comments made the rounds in Buffalo and Sabres coach Lindy Ruff shot back that Emery could rent a car and go driving in his downtime, in reference to the traffic accident the Senators netminder got in that caused him to miss the team's charter to New Jersey last week in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Emery had the latest word Wednesday when asked if he'd have anything to say to Ruff if he saw him on the road - Emery quipped he'd greet him with a little "nudge."

What's no joke is the Senators' road record this spring, where they've won four of five away games.

Against Pittsburgh in the opening round, they went 2-for-2 at Mellon Arena to put the Penguins in the hole after a split in Ottawa.

The Senators followed that up in Round 2 by travelling to New Jersey and beating the Devils 5-4 in the opener to earn a split at Continental Airlines Arena, where they later wrapped up the series.

In both of those previous destinations, however, the environment wasn't as charged with the playoff fever that's gripped Buffalo.

Behind the support, the Sabres have gone 5-1 at the 18,690-capacity HSBC Arena and Ruff remarked earlier this week that fan support has been an inspiring factor during the team's run.

Just how strong is the team's popularity? Buffalo is the top-selling team in terms of merchandise for the past eight months in figures released by NHL.com - up 895 per cent from a year earlier, according to the Buffalo News.

Those fans have plenty to root against in the Senators. In addition to Emery, Chris Neil, who knocked Chris Drury out with a controversial hit in February and Peter Schaefer, who put Tim Connolly out of the playoffs a year ago with a similar check, can also expect to hear the jeers.

But the charged atmosphere suits Ottawa just fine.

"Sometimes the Jersey crowd almost put you to sleep a little bit. I think that's the way their team almost wants it," Senators centre Jason Spezza said following Wednesday's practice.

"We're not going to have to worry about that now because Buffalo's got a pretty rowdy crowd as it is and from what you read and hear, you know it's going to be pretty rowdy. If anything, it helps to get more motivated. Coming in, you get the energy of the building."

Ottawa's objective will be to score first and take it from there since they're 6-0 in these playoffs after notching the opening goal.

"The trend, definitely for the teams that are winning, is they're getting early leads on they're holding on to them," Spezza said. "For us it's important because once we score first, then teams have to try and take chances to score and once teams start gambling, then our transition game comes in.

"That's why we've been good with the lead all year because once the teams have got to gamble, we kind of bury them on two-on-ones and (the Sabres) are kind of similar, so the first goal will be really important in the series."

Last spring, Ottawa had home-ice advantage against the Sabres and lost Game 1 en route to being upset in the series. They're hoping to turn the tables on Buffalo.

The Senators will be helped offensively by the return to practice Wednesday of second-line right-winger Mike Comrie, who'd sat out the previous two days to rest an undisclosed injury. With right-winger Patrick Eaves also back up to speed after suffering a suspected concussion following a crunching hit from Pittsburgh's Colby Armstrong in the opening round, Ottawa has its entire lineup available.

"I think we found out last year in Game 1 we had home ice, we had a good year, we lost it - and it affected us," Senators coach Bryan Murray said.

"This time around, I think the shoes are totally reversed. They're the elite team, they have home ice - and that's not a bad thing for us."

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Sens' Emery, Senators expecting rough ride from Sabres fans