Spezza swears by Sens

DON BRENNAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:04 AM ET

Jason Spezza would like everyone immediately expelled from the school of thought that says the Senators aren't playing as hard as they can.

He made that clear in no uncertain terms yesterday.

"It's bulls--t," the Senators centre blurted, never minding his "p's" and "q's" with network and local cameras rolling, when the effort question was raised after yesterday's practice. "It's bulls--t," he repeated. "It's not lack of effort at all.

"We're trying. I think it's lack of confidence. I think you lose a little bit of your edge. It's hard to really pinpoint one thing, but it's definitely not a lack of effort.

"Every day, every guy in here is trying as hard as they can," Spezza continued. "Everybody. It consumes your energy all through the day. I think guys are going home and it's all you think about. This is what we do for a living. This is what we're passionate about. It's definitely not a lack of effort."

Naturally, you'd expect such defiance from players when their integrity and very character are being challenged. Still to be determined is if Spezza and his teammates can take that fire from the dressing room to the on-ice scrums when their season is on the line.

Starting tonight when they host a Canadiens squad vying for first place in the conference, the Senators have a fight on their hands just to qualify for the playoffs.

Three has become their magic number. They need three points out of the remaining three games -- including Thursday's visit to Toronto and the regular-season finale here against the Bruins on Friday -- to secure their 10th consecutive invitation to the post-season tournament.

For the Senators team that started the season 15-2, it'd be a piece of cake. But for the Senators that have one of the four worst records in the NHL since Jan. 1, there are no such guarantees.

"We had a downturn the way we've played, sort of post-Christmas time. We all know that," said coach and GM Bryan Murray. "We'd like to be not in this position, but we are. And we have to handle it. That's what it's all about. There's no sense in getting in the playoffs if you can't win some games to get into the playoffs. So let's do it. Let's figure a way out, how to play here in the next three games, and get into the playoffs. That's what we have to do."

MURRAY TO THE POINT

When asked how that was to be accomplished, Murray was succinct.

"Play hard," he said. "I don't know if there is anything abnormal you can do. You just have to get all the guys to play hard, play competitive. That's what we've been asking them to do. There's no secret to our game. The secret is that you play hard."

In that case, it would seem the Senators haven't been playing hard enough, winning just twice in their last seven games and thus fuelling the flames of those who say they aren't pouring 100% of themselves into the cause.

"You guys portray that, that we don't try, and that's unfortunate," said Murray, admitting that the team did not respond well to falling behind after a strong first period in Boston. "We got 3-of-4 points against Buffalo in the games before that. I'm not sure anybody is a world beater anymore. This is the way the game is now. You have to get your best players to play well. If they play well, you have a chance.

"I'm frustrated, but I don't have to play. I'm sure they're all pushing a little bit, you can see that. There's all kinds of teams in this position. We're not unique here. The New York Rangers are still one point behind us, and the New Jersey Devils are one point ahead of us. We all have games left. It's who plays well. Everybody is under the same microscope, and if we think we're special, we're not."

Against a Habs team that last week had them down 7-1 before a third-period rally made the final respectable, Murray said: "We just have to play and match their intensity."

Will it be good enough? Are the Senators good enough, or -- as a team that momentum pushed along a path of good fortune to the final last spring and took the energy from that run with them to the starting gate and a bit beyond at the start of this season -- are they and have they simply been overrated all along?

"None of that matters, unfortunately," Murray said of the 15-2 start. "And last year doesn't matter. What matters now is that we play well this week.

"There's no magic word that I can think of that will make that happen. It's a matter of going out with the attitude that we're just going to do our best, play our best, play as hard as we can and as desperate as we can, and go from there."


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