Battle of Ontario cooling

BRUCE GARRIOCH, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:07 AM ET

Craig Hartsburg got an earful from Canadiens fans last week. Tonight, he'll be exposed to the leather lungs of Leaf Nation.

"The Montreal game here (last week) was kind of the first time I was exposed to the crowd and you're not sure what building you're in when you walk out there," said Hartsburg, cracking a smile yesterday. "I understand it's the same, or even more so with Toronto, so it's certainly going to be an electric atmosphere in the building. I have obviously been part of the rivalry (last month in Toronto), but I anticipate an intense game."

While a game in the Battle of Ontario used to bring much anticipation, it hasn't been the same since the end of the lockout in 2005. No longer do the Leafs have characters like Pat Quinn behind the bench or Darcy Tucker, Tie Domi, Gary Roberts and Mats Sundin in the lineup.

The Leafs' roster is mostly made up of young players. The players aren't any less excited about it, but they've noticed the buildup isn't quite the same as it used to be.

"It takes away for you guys," said defenceman Chris Phillips, pointing at reporters. "It made for more exciting stories when there were characters (the media) could feed off and have fun with. We had fun with it as well. It got everybody going and saying things, but that's not there as much.

"It doesn't take away from the importance of the game. The rivalry is, a lot of times, built up more outside of the dressing room with the fans and the excitement in the building.

"It has tailed off a little bit, but it's a divisional game. There are going to be a lot of Toronto fans in the stands and there's going to be a lot of excitement with it."

Whether it's the Leafs or not, the Senators know they need to get back to winning to close the gap in the Eastern Conference. The Senators have improved, coming off a 4-1 win over the New York Rangers on Saturday, but they need to start getting results so they can get back to .500 and into a playoff position.

The visit by the Leafs starts a stretch where the Senators play four of their next five at home -- with the exception being Saturday's visit to Long Island.

"We've given up a lot of points before Christmas and as much as you say it's before Christmas and we can make those points up, you don't want to let too many slip away," said Senators centre Jason Spezza. "We feel a little better about our team and guys can sense more confidence in the room.

"We've got to string some wins together and climb the standings. With the exception of the top four teams, pretty much everybody has played .500 hockey in the East, so there is room to climb.

"Winning breeds confidence.

"That's our goal here in the next week and a short-term goal to set."


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