Neil hasn't lost his tough-guy touch -- or his class

DON BRENNAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:05 AM ET

BOSTON -- Chris Neil wasted little time getting back into the swing of things.

Returning to the lineup after missing 15 games with a lacerated calf, the Senators' resident tough guy took on Boston's Milan Lucic in a tremendous tussle.

Neil, who gives up two or three inches, 20 lbs. and nine years to the big, bad Bruin, showed he certainly hasn't lost his touch.

"Once I had his jersey over his head, I could've hit him a couple more times," said Neil. "I didn't want to do that. He was in a vulnerable position. That's when guys get hurt. So I held up.

"Then I've got (Zdeno) Chara coming up and saying, 'that's a pretty classy thing to do.' It makes you feel pretty good when the other team notices that."

As the scrap occurred just four seconds after the Bruins grabbed a 2-0 lead, Neil's greater intentions were to make his own team notice.

On his way to the box, he pointed at the Ottawa bench and hollered at his fellow Senators. What did he say?

"Let's get going."

The Senators played the Bruins to a 3-3 draw the rest of the way, and that's including the empty-netter Boston scored with Ottawa trying to send the game into overtime.

In retrospect, maybe Neil should have delivered the wake-up call after the opening faceoff.

Starts and stops

Senators coach Cory Clouston played some defence for Brian Elliott yesterday morning, reminding reporters in the hotel lobby that the 23-year-old goalie is having a pretty remarkable season. No doubt there are Senators fans who have started to believe otherwise, given that Elliott has surrendered some shoddy goals the past couple of weeks. "Does he play every night the way we want him to? No," said Clouston. "But when you look at it overall and evaluate him, he's 11-4-3. You have to take a step back and look at the big picture. A year ago, or the start of the season, he (wasn't supposed to) be here right now as our so-called No. 1. Plans changed. You look at his overall development from where he was last year to where he is this year, he might be our most improved player in the whole organization. I think people sometimes unfairly criticize him, but a lot of that is the position he plays." ... No wonder Brian Lee thought he could make a short, quick comment on the referee's work when he was called for a penalty. He's Jarkko Ruutu's teammate. Nobody shows up the men in stripes more with outstretched or waving arms when he's going to the box ... "The B's radio guys are cryin' like little girls over the officiating," our pal C.J., clearly putting his XM Radio to good use, texted during the first intermission. "Go give them a hug." Surely the troops in Afghanistan miss that wit.

Things I think I think

Didn't Daniel Alfredsson miss one game with a broken jaw? Filip Kuba has been out three with the flu. We all know what it's like to be under the weather, but the Senators are not yet mathematically eliminated from the playoff race. Kuba is well enough to travel with the team, eat meals and go for a morning skate. His strength is zapped, but as their second-, third- or fourth-best defenceman, couldn't he contribute more than the sixth-best by helping the Senators in their do-or-die moments with fewer shifts or just playing the power play? ... Taking a bench minor for two many men with fewer than five seconds to play in the period, as the Senators did, is just plain dumb. Why are you making line changes at that time in the first place? ... The guess here is that Clouston has already been told he'll be back to coach in Ottawa next season. "I'm not going to comment on that," Clouston said when asked about any such conversations he may have already had with GM Bryan Murray. "My goal is to win the next game. Whatever's going to happen will happen. We wanted to see how good this team can be. We also wanted to make sure we had this team moving forward in the right direction, and I think so far we've been able to do that."

Between periods

Some rinks show a pair of big goofy hands clapping on the videoboard to get the crowd going. In the last five minutes last night, Ray Bourque and Cam Neely were shown on the screen, watching the game from their separate perches. That created a little noise ... Bruins tough guy Shawn Thornton is concerned that Tiger Williams and his all-time penalty minutes record (3,966) will be jeopardized if misconducts are awarded for staged fights. "If you start giving 10 every time guys square off," said Thornton, "you're going to have guys with 7,000 minutes at the end of their careers." Indeed, it'd be like switching to soccer nets and expecting Wayne Gretzky's scoring records to stand ... Claude Julien is also down on any movement to eliminate fighting. "When you've got a stick in your hands, it's a lot more dangerous than dropping the gloves," the B's coach said. "I'd rather see guys stick up for each other that way." ... Now with the seventh team of his NHL career and fifth since 2005, Mark Recchi is happy that home is Boston. "I used to ask my agent all the time, 'is Boston interested? Is Boston interested?" said the veteran winger, who was acquired by GM Peter Chiarelli at the deadline. "But I'd never get that call. I'm excited to be here."

Chew on this

The players' pre-game meal includes pasta, chicken or fish. I have determined that the sportswriter is at his sharpest when, a few hours before the game, he dines on (while away) P.F. Chang's lettuce wraps and wonton soup or (at home) tuna, mayo and black olives on whole wheat. But that might just be me ... Narrowly avoided was an accidental, press-box collision between Bruins assistant Neely and Senators media relations guy Brian Morris. Think Chara running into Ryan Shannon ... U2 stayed at the same Boston hotel as the Senators, only one Beautiful Day earlier.

DON.BRENNAN@SUNMEDIA.CA


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