No Sens of urgency

TERRY KOSHAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:47 AM ET

Andrew Raycroft and the Maple Leafs will clash with their foremost enemy in the National Hockey League tonight, one that has all hands on deck and has been firing on all cylinders.

But the 26-year-old netminder, who has demonstrated an ability to shrug off issues that might cause others great distress, didn't raise an eyebrow yesterday after practice at Lakeshore Lions Arena.

"You don't dread it," Raycroft said when asked about facing the Ottawa Senators at Scotiabank Place. "It's there on the schedule and that's the reality. I don't sit there and look three weeks ahead and (say) 'Oh, we have Ottawa, we're in big trouble' or 'I can't wait to play them.' We need to play a tough road game and try to keep it close. You would rather win 2-1 than trade chances all night."

That kind of calm demeanour could become Raycroft's close friend in the final two months of the regular season. With 30 games left, coach Paul Maurice said it's conceivable the 26-year-old might not see the end of the bench again.

"He could play all the games if we needed him to," Maurice said. "Our schedule is spread out and I am not necessarily planning on playing him (in all 30), but we are not in a situation where we are picking games for our backup goaltender now."

Raycroft has one shutout in a Leafs sweater, and it came in Ottawa on Oct. 5. Though the Senators are in fifth place in the Eastern Conference with 62 points, six more than the ninth-place Leafs, there are parallels between the teams. Both clubs enjoyed a bounty of victories in January, and both endured injuries to key performers. But the Senators now are injury-free and the Leafs remain without Darcy Tucker, Kyle Wellwood, Michael Peca and Boyd Devereaux.

Though the Leafs have won five of their past six overall and six of their past seven road games, they have not made a ton of headway in the standings.

"I don't think there is any frustration," Maurice said. "That's part of the mentality of surviving. Flip our record (in January), and it's 4-8 and it's over. A good week is not going to put you (in the playoffs) unless you have been in the fight and it is the last week of the season."

This much is sure: If the Leafs are men of their words and they realize truly their precarious status, tonight's match should be a little more of what has made the so-called Battle of Ontario an intriguing rivalry. Even when the Senators have blown the Leafs out, there has been a nasty physical element, and it's worth noting Ottawa forward Chris Neil leads the NHL with 215 hits. Two other Senators, Anton Volchenkov and Mike Fisher, are in the top 15, and the Leafs' Chad Kilger is ninth. And Volchenkov has a league-high 175 blocked shots.

"It's always a test," defenceman Carlo Colaiacovo said. "We know the position we are in. Ottawa is a great offensive team, but we have to make them know it will not be an easy night for them."


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