Andrej's giant heart

DON BRENNAN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:41 AM ET

BOSTON -- Already hobbled as they head into a meeting with the Eastern Conference's second-best team by points, the Senators watched Andrej Meszaros limp off the ice, from their building onto the team charter.

Unless he starts to crawl, however, the coaching staff need not worry about finding another new partner for Chris Phillips on the team's top blue-line pair.

Meszaros, who begged off a second day's work with a tender left foot, fully intends to keep his ironman streak (195 games) alive when the Senators meet the surging Bruins tonight at TD Banknorth Garden.

"I want to keep it going," the 22-year-old Slovak said of a streak started when he turned pro three Octobers ago. "If I don't have anything broken, or major surgery, I'll play."

Good news for John Paddock, bad news for a Lawrence Nycholat or Brian Lee waiting on a call in Binghamton.

Meszaros, who scored his fifth of the season in Saturday's 7-3 victory over Atlanta, also has 10 assists while averaging 21:44 of ice time. He has put behind him the sophomore jinx of a year ago and, in the past 2 1/2 weeks, has filled in capably for Anton Volchenkov while the A-Train's broken finger mends.

Volchenkov and Patrick Eaves (separated shoulder) are joined on the shelf by Mike Fisher, who will miss his first of at least two with an oblique muscle strain. The griity centre is also short one tooth -- the remnants of a head-butt from Carolina's Scott Walker last Wednesday.

Fisher hopes to play Saturday when the Senators host the Chicago Blackhawks. He's never had such an injury, so Fisher really doesn't know how long it will keep him out.

"It's up to other guys to pick up the slack," said Paddock, who mentioned Dean McAmmond and Shean Donovan by name. "We went to Florida (on an early month road trip) with the idea of getting more guys involved. They both responded with consistent play. This is more opportunity for them."

The Bruins present a stern test for Ottawa, healthy or otherwise.

The Senators have prevailed in both meetings this season -- 3-2 in Ottawa Nov. 3 and 2-1 in a shootout the next night in Boston.

That was before coach Claude Julien's team started to come together.

When NHL save percentage leader Tim Thomas suffered a groin injury, GM Peter Chiarelli filled the void. He traded for Alex Auld, who the Phoenix Coyotes demoted to the minors, in a move that has looked brilliant.

Auld has gone 4-1 while allowing eight goals and posting a superb .955 save percentage in starting every game since his acquisition, including a shutout of the Blue Jackets Saturday.

Thomas was activated after that game and is expected to start tonight.

"(The Bruins are) a team that had no defensive structure last year ... Claude came in and gave them real defensive structure," Paddock said of Julien, who replaced Dave Lewis behind the bench this season. "All they're doing is playing like most teams have for years ... New Jersey, Montreal ... trapping teams. They've really grasped it."

The Senators, who are six points up on the Bruins with a game in hand, have grasped five straight victories while rallying around the injuries.

CITES MORRISON

That speaks to a player like Meszaros, who has stepped up his game while averaging over 23 minutes a night with Volchenkov out and now refuses to limp away from the added workload or a streak that is important to him.

"Brendan Morrison had 542 games, then had to go for wrist surgery," Meszaros said of the Canucks centre whose ironman streak ended last week. "That's a long way to go, but we'll see.

"I learned in Vancouver from (junior coach) Don Hay, who told me 'when you go to the NHL sometimes you have to play through injury, or somebody will be there to take your spot.' It's a little different here. We have six (defenceman), but I don't want to miss a game. I want to be here and playing. That's what matters."


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