Alfie tells Sens fans to 'relax'

DON BRENNAN -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:18 AM ET

NEW YORK -- The Senators' marketing department wants fans to "Paint The Town Red" and wear the team's favourite bloody colour at home games to show their support in the playoffs.

These days, though, it's more like Ottawa is on red alert as fear of another early exit from the post-season tournament looms large.

With just three wins in their last 12 games, plus the uncertain status of goalie Dominik Hasek, the Senators have their faithful followers nervously calling radio shows as well as discussing the worst-case scenarios around the bars, office coolers and everywhere else they gather.

Yesterday, captain Daniel Alfredsson was asked for a message to send back to the fans.

He replied with one word.

"Relax," said Alfredsson.

"We have a great opportunity here," he continued a moment later, "and we're really excited about going into the playoffs as one of the teams with the best chance to win the Cup.

"I'm really looking forward to Friday."

While nothing has formally been announced, the Senators will start the post-season with games at Scotiabank Place Friday and Sunday.

"We have to realize we're not playing good hockey right now," said Jason Spezza. "But we still have one game left until the audition is over and the real season begins. We still have a little time to sort things out."

Bryan Smolinski believes that, contrary to popular opinion, a team can, in fact, turn it on like a switch.

"I think that's the beauty of this game," he said.

"You can have an off night, and the next night you can rebound. The slate is wiped clean right now.

"I don't think we're concerned ... we're just finding our way again."

Saying he doesn't listen to sports radio chat anymore after hearing something earlier this season that "wasn't right," coach Bryan Murray chided the media during his press conference yesterday.

"Oh sure, you're the first people to tell me that the regular season doesn't mean anything, that it's all about the playoffs," he said. "Well it's all about the playoffs now.

"We're going to end up with 113 points, probably, and we're all looking forward to the playoffs starting. We have to play well, be focused and whoever we play, have a good game plan. Will we win every game? Not likely. Will we win our share? Probably.

"We'll be a good team in the playoffs."

THE RETURN OF PHILLIPS (and his equipment): Injured D Chris Phillips was holding out hope of returning to the lineup for tonight's game -- until equipment assistant Chris Cook stopped by his stall and pulled back his gear. "This isn't going (to New York)," Cook told Phillips. Pointing to his own chest, Phillips replied: "Is this going?" The answer, it turns out, was a big negative. There is no ice available for the Senators in New York this morning, so it was decided Phillips and his recovering knee would benefit more by staying behind in Ottawa for an extra day of practice. Phillips, meanwhile, appears determined to be ready for Friday's playoff opener. And given his past play in the post-season, that would be big news for the Senators. "It's not 100% yet," he said of his knee, "but that's what I'm looking for. I pushed it hard (yesterday) and we'll see how it reacts. You'd definitely like to be out there helping the team when things aren't going well, but I also don't want to be in there for one or two games and then hurt it again. I'm trying to be as smart as I can about this."

ICE CHIPS: Spezza is hoping to help linemate Dany Heatley score his 50th of the season tonight. "I definitely want to see him get it," said Spezza, the NHL's second-leading assist-getter heading into last night's action. "To go this far and finish with 49 is like kissing your mother-in-law. If we win the hockey game, there's a good chance he'll get it. When we win, we're usually contributing." .... The line combinations at yesterday's practice are likely the way the Senators will go tonight and quite possibly the way they'll start the playoffs. They were, as follows: Chris Kelly-Spezza-Heatley; Peter Schaefer-Mike Fisher-Martin Havlat; Patrick Eaves-Smolinski-Alfredsson; Vaclav Varada-Antoine Vermette-Chris Neil. That means Tyler Arnason and Brian McGrattan would begin as the odd men out ... The Senators should hope to draw the Lightning in the first round -- if regular-season success means anything. Ottawa was 4-0-0 vs. the Bolts, outscoring them 16-6. The Senators were 4-3-1 against Montreal (24-21) and against Atlanta they were 2-2-0.


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