History on Habs' side

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 4:42 PM ET


 Never mind the naysayers. The Senators are convinced they can beat the Toronto Maple Leafs this time.

 As the Senators prepare for Game 1 of the Battle of Ontario tomorrow at the Air Canada Centre (7 p.m., CBC), they're not listening to the so-called experts, who are almost universal in predicting a first-round exit for Ottawa.

 History is surely on the side of the Leafs, who won all three previous playoff series against the Senators. And Saturday's 6-0 loss to Toronto at the Corel Centre even had Senators fans starting to jump off the bandwagon.

 Rugged winger Rob Ray says none of it matters.

 "The people that aren't picking us or don't believe in us aren't in this room. That means it doesn't matter what they think," said Ray yesterday. "I don't know, maybe it should be something that we can draw from and then when we do beat (the Leafs), we can tell all those people to (bleep) off.

 "Yes, we didn't play well in the last game, but don't let one bad loss or what's happened in the past bother you so much. We were not at the top of our game Saturday night, but those things happen to every team. I don't understand why everybody is turning on us because of one game.

 "We played a lot of the top teams -- Colorado, Tampa and even Toronto -- and we played well against them. It wouldn't have mattered if that game was 12-0 Saturday. It's behind us. Forget about it. Move on. This is a new season. We're going to play the way people expect us to play."

 NOT FIGHTING ODDS

 While Ray might not suit up for the series opener, he has a good feel on the pulse of what's happening in the dressing room. The Senators don't feel they're battling the odds just because the Leafs are being favoured in every corner.

 Instead, Ottawa players are confident that if everybody is on the same page, there's a good chance of success against their arch-rivals. Defenceman Zdeno Chara called on everybody to elevate their game a notch.

 "We have to play better as a team and we have to make the sacrifices it takes to win a series," he said. "We have to play hard, we have to play smart, we have to sacrifice our bodies to block shots or make the hit.

 "We have to be physical and be willing to pay the price to get this done. What you have to do in this kind of series is bring more heart to your game. When you play with character as a team, you're going to have more success."

 Paying the price also means going to the net. The Senators have only four goals against Toronto netminder Ed Belfour this season and the situation has to improve.

 "We know we have to do a better job against Belfour," said Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson. "I don't think you're going to find any goaltender who likes to have traffic in front of him and we have to be better in that area.

 "The one thing we know as a group is we've got a lot of players on this team who can score goals. We know he's got the experience and he's won a Stanley Cup, but we've got to do a better job scoring on the chances we create."

 WIN PLAYOFF TICKETS!

 They're the hottest tickets in town.

 Everyone in Ottawa is fired up about the Senators' latest playoff matchup with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The series starts in Hogtown, but playoff fever hits the Corel Centre next Monday and Wednesday.

 And you could be among the lucky fans on hand to welcome the Sens home for Game 3.

 We've got a pair of tickets for Monday's game, and we're going to award them to one lucky reader who correctly answers the following question:

 Who scored the final goal for the Senators in their playoff series against the Maple Leafs in 2002?

 Send answers to ottsports@ott.sunpub.com by midnight today. We'll announce the winner in tomorrow's paper.


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