Alfie: If you win one game, win against the Leafs

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 6:57 AM ET

OTTAWA — With a horde of media types scrunched around him, a candid Mike Fisher, tongue planted firmly in cheek, offered a recipe for success for his Ottawa Senators against the hated Maple Leafs tonight.

Muzzle the fans.

No big revelation here. Road teams always come into hostile barns attempting to silence leather-lunged throngs, especially early in games.

Except this time, this critical instalment of the Battle of Ontario is being played at Scotiabank Place, the Sens’ home rink.

“It’s going to be a battle,” Fisher said, tongue in cheek. “If we can take the crowd out of it early on, we can keep going.”

Fisher’s quip is met with a chorus of laughter from local reporters.

Just one question: Which segment of the crowd is he referring to?

Is it the thousands of blue collar Leaf fans who always shoehorn themselves into the west-end Ottawa arena, waving their Toronto flags, booing Sens captain Daniel Alfredsson every time he touches the puck in his home rink, and showing much more energy than the deadweight suits who sit on their hands for most every Leaf game at the Air Canada Centre?

Or, perhaps, is Fisher hoping that a fast start might keep the loyal Sens faithful from jeering their struggling heroes, who have just one regulation time victory in their past 10 starts?

Make no mistake, there is no sitting on the fence in the nation’s capital when it comes to the rivalry between the Leafs and the Sens.

This rivalry, which definitely has lost some of its teeth with the departure of both Mats Sundin and regular Leaf playoff appearances, nevertheless still has polarized an entire community.

Back in 2000, for example, during the first ever playoff series between these two bitter foes, an Ottawa radio station ran a commercial prior to Sens home games telling fans to “leave your blue and white at home — you live in Ottawa, not Toronto.”

Four years later, Ottawa city council tried to ban Leaf jerseys from Scotiabank Place prior to a March regular season game against Toronto, an admittedly lighthearted effort to stir up civic pride.

The move, however, backfired.

In the end, there was an unofficial record number of blue-and-white jerseys that game at Scotiabank Place.

Leafs Nation will be well represented here again tonight. That’s a given.

The difference this time is that the Sens, after a good start to the season, have started to wobble. Jonathan Cheechoo, part of the deal that sent the disgruntled Dany Heatley to San Jose, has just one goal in 17 games. The enigmatic Alexei Kovalev has just eight points and is minus-7.

And goalie Pascal Leclaire has struggled with an .892 save percentage.

Heading into play last night, the Senators were 11th in the East, eight points ahead of the Leafs.

To lose to a Toronto team that has registered just three victories to date would be a punch in the gut.

As of yesterday, almost 3,000 seats still were available. That speaks as much to the Sens struggles as it does those of the Leafs.

“It’s a must win,” Sens forward Jason Spezza said. “We have to win the game. The Leaf games are always more intense for us.”

And if the Sens should somehow find a way to come up short?

“Oh, when you do lose (to Toronto), you definitely have to take it more personal around here,” Spezza replied.

Alfredsson, one of the classiest characters in any sport, admits the Battle of Ontario has lost some pop without Sundin, not to mention there hasn’t been a playoff matchups since 2004.

“On the ice the rivalry is not the same,” Alfredsson said, adding that “talking to friends, I know this. If you are going to win one game that week, if you are playing Toronto, that’s the one.”

Especially this one.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca


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