Man the battle stations. Peter Bondra has fired the first shot in the Battle of Ontario.
While the Senators winger said he will be fine after suffering a back injury in a 6-0 loss to the Maple Leafs on Saturday, he accused Toronto tough guy Tie Domi of going head-hunting with a hit from behind and declared their latest playoff meeting could be a "war."
With the first-round series against the Leafs set to open Thursday at the Air Canada Centre, the Senators know the best form of payback is a victory.
Bondra said yesterday the players are ready for the challenge.
"(Domi) wasn't looking for the puck. He was going after my head," said Bondra, who left the game after he slumped to the ice following the Leaf's hit. "I don't know. Usually when you're battling with one guy, you don't expect anything else. I saw him coming at the last second, but I couldn't prepare for it.
"I feel good. I will be fine. If there was a game tonight, I would play. I took part in the whole practice and I'm excited about playing in these playoffs. We all expect this is going to be a tough series and we're prepared for it. It's a rivalry and it's going to be a war, I guess."
The Senators are fending off questions about their ugly past against the Leafs. Asked if it "bugged him" that the Senators hadn't beaten Toronto in three previous playoff series, captain Daniel Alfredsson didn't miss a beat.
"That doesn't bug me," said Alfredsson. "What bugs me is that we haven't won a Stanley Cup. That's first and foremost on my mind."
Trying to beat the Leafs is a big task for Ottawa, but it should be made easier by the fact the team will have Bondra and centre Jason Spezza (lower body) healthy. The question mark remains goalie Patrick Lalime.
Senators GM John Muckler strolled to the glass behind the net yesterday and received a nod of reassurance from Lalime that he'd be ready on Thursday.
But optimism alone won't keep the puck out of the net. Lalime will have to find -- and keep -- his form.
Nursing a knee sprain he suffered in the first period of a 2-2 tie with the Leafs on March 27, Lalime participated in about 20 minutes of the hour-long practice and stayed afterward for extra work with goalie coach Phil Myre.
"I'm feeling good and it's getting better every day,"said Lalime. "It's progressing and I'm excited. I'm going to keep working at it. I've got three more days. Hopefully, everything is going to be fine and I'll be ready to go."
If Lalime isn't ready -- and his status likely won't be determined until Thursday -- then backup Martin Prusek will make the start. Ray Emery was again recalled from Binghamton (AHL).
"I've gone through stretches in the season of 10 days where I haven't played before," said Lalime. "I'm not worried about it. I don't think it's going to be any big deal. You want to get back in there and you want to play in the playoffs."
The Senators are trying to sell themselves as the underdogs this time around.
"Toronto finished the season with more points than us, so they should be the favourites," said defenceman Wade Redden.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org by midnight tomorrow. We'll announce the winner in Thursday's paper.
BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun
, Last Updated: 5:06 PM ET