Senators stand alone in believing they can win

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 5:29 PM ET

 In Ottawa, no matter how many times the local heroes have choked under pressure, misplaced the trust of their supporters, or downright cheated them out of what is rightly theirs, support is unwavering.

 Of course, that's the Liberals we're talking about, not the Senators.

 When it comes to the Senators, even Ottawans aren't stupid enough to think that this time will be different.

 Only in one small section of the region do the inhabitants express firm belief that the Senators can beat the Maple Leafs in the opening round of the NHL playoffs -- the Senators dressing room in the Corel Centre.

 If there is a Senators fan in Ottawa who genuinely believes that his team will still be alive when the second round starts, he's keeping quiet about it.

 The opinion expressed on the talk shows is overwhelming. Wait for next year.

 On Saturday night, in a crowded Ottawa pub, one Senators fan after another stopped by to express his views. (The inevitable consequence of going to a bar with Christine Simpson.)

 At that time, the first-round matchups weren't set, but every single Senators fan expressed the same hope: Please Lord, not the Leafs. Our boys can beat anybody except the Leafs.

 This is probably the first time in history that a team eked out a one-point margin over 82 games and yet immediately became established as a prohibitive favourite in the eyes of the fans in both cities.

 Indeed, it is true that the Leafs should win this series. When a team establishes a dominance over another, athletes, who are superstitious people at the best of times, start to suspect some higher force being in play.

 Even though they consciously tell themselves that they can win, their subconscious is busy screaming, "No you can't. You never have."

 Still, there are a couple of notes of caution for Toronto fans. In 1988, the Edmonton Oilers were in a similar position, finishing six points behind the Calgary Flames and, according to popular opinion, having virtually no chance of survival.

 So one-sided was the questioning prior to the series opener in Calgary that the co-coach of the Oilers mused, "It almost makes us wonder why we bothered to come."

 That co-coach was John Muckler, now general manager of the Senators. The Oilers swept the Flames.

 The other concern might be that because of all the expectations, there is tremendous pressure on the Leafs to win the opener. None of this one-sided approach is their doing, but the fact remains that if the Senators could come into Toronto and take that opening game, there would be an attitude change of monstrous proportions.

 The Leafs' home-ice advantage would evaporate and the pressure to win the second game would be phenomenal.

 As a result, starting on the road is probably an advantage for Ottawa. Had the Senators opened in the Corel Centre, their home crowd would have been tentative and wary, and that nervousness would have transmitted itself to the players.

 But in the Air Canada Centre, the Senators can simply play the solid road game of which they are so capable and reverse the roles.

 A Senators win would cause the Leafs fans to express nervousness, and the subconscious fears of an early flameout would be dancing in the heads of the Leafs, not the Senators.

 But realistically, it only makes sense to assume a Toronto victory.

 After all, if you have won consistently, you're probably going to win again, even if you're awful. Where is there more evidence of that fact than in Ottawa?