Fourth-liners stepping it up in playoffs

DON BRENNAN -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 3:33 PM ET


 TORONTO -- You know something is significant when they give it a name.

 "Hudson's Bay Rules," Senators hero o' the day Mike Fisher said in reference to the style of play at this time of the hockey season, just before he and friends packed up for one final roadie to The Big Smoke. "Anything goes."

 Never mind arguing it. Never mind whining about the fact referees have a growing reluctance to call penalties for fear of affecting the outcome as it gets later into nights and the spring, and by putting their whistles deeper into their pockets are affecting the outcome.

 In the words of Owen Nolan, Boo Hoo. Such is life in the playoffs. Deal with it.

 He who does so best will prevail.

 By nature, fourth-liners are hard-working, straight-ahead type players. They are the you and me of an elite society that is the NHL. They have dirt under their fingernails. They make up for any lack of talent or experience with determination and intensity.

 They thrive on Hudson's Bay Rules.

 You've gotta love fourth-liners. And you've gotta feel good when they are rewarded for their efforts, which has been the case in the last two games of the Battle of Ontario.

 At the Air Canada Centre on Friday, the winning goal was scored by Tie Domi, the ultimate fourth-liner and Toronto's most effective forward overall in this series to date. Earning kudos for his aggressiveness and hustle that night was fourth-line left winger Tom Fitzgerald, who is also usually among the small group of Leafs that can be counted on to face the first wave of media questions after practice, thus allowing the stars to hide in the off-limits back room, should they so choose. And named the game's first star was Robert Reichel, who would have been a fifth- or sixth-liner at the start of the playoffs if some people had their way, but also a guy who has emerged to help fill the void left by the injury to Mats Sundin.

 Ottawa's fourth line countered in Game 6. Antoine Vermette beating Aki Berg along the boards, Chris Neil drawing Leafs to where he was posted in front of the net, and Fisher getting open and providing the finishing touch.

 Tit for tat.

 "I think it's probably the style of play in the playoffs," Senators coach Jacques Martin said when asked why he thought fourth-liners were emerging as the stars. "People come back hard, there are very few odd man rushes ... I think it's easier for those players. They play a simple, hard working game."

 Fourth-liners have a history of coming up with timely goals in the playoffs. Guys like Brad May, Darren McCarty and, from John Muckler's days in Edmonton, Kevin McClelland.

 In their Cup-winning season of 1995, the New Jersey Devils were sparked by a "Crash Line" that consisted of Bobby Holik, Randy McKay and former Senator Mike Peluso. In 2001, the Dallas Stars were able to get a lot of playoff mileage out of their Grumpy Old Men -- Kirk Muller, Mike Keane and John MacLean. And then there's the Detroit Red Wings fourth line of Cup-winning years that is still together and one of the most effective of its kind ever -- Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby and McCarty.

 "In the playoffs, usually when you're looking at the successful teams, it's not always the big guns," said Vermette. "It's really a team game, everybody has to come up with their best game and play hard.

 "You've got to be stronger mentally, that's the bottom line.

 To be honest, I think the only factors that matter at this time are character, passion and determination."

 All traits of a guy like Fisher, which is why it's fitting he scored the life-saving goal Sunday.

 Also fitting is that the 23-year-old -- who should be the future captain of the Senators -- was born and raised in Peterborough. About halfway between Toronto and Ottawa.

 "As a team, the focus in (Game 6) was being relentless, not giving up and just pushing forward," Fisher said. "I think that's what we did."

 And that's what the Senators will have to do again tonight.

 "Everyone knows they're the older team," he said of the Leafs. "Coming into Game 7, we have to keep wearing them down and grinding. If we can do that, it will put the chances in our favour. We have to do whatever we have to do to win."

 Of note, the referees tonight will be Don Van Massenhoven and Kevin Pollock. Van Massenhoven, a former cop, has a reputation of letting things go, allowing the players to play. In other words, he's a proponent of Hudson's Bay Rules at the best of time.

 In Game 7, anything goes. And the team that best deals with that fact will prevail.


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