Great expectations for Sens

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 10:06 AM ET

Is it now or never for the Senators?

When the Senators open the playoffs tonight at Scotiabank Place against the Tampa Bay Lightning, some believe it could be the last chance for this talented edition of the club to bring a Stanley Cup to Ottawa.

When this playoff run ends, the Senators will go their separate ways, changes will be made and some big names on the roster might not return here next season.

The chances are slim the club will be able to keep both of its star free-agent defencemen -- Wade Redden and Zdeno Chara -- which means the Senators need to capitalize on this opportunity.

"For sure, this is the best team I've been a part of (in his NHL career)," Chara said yesterday. "You never know what's going to happen in the future, but we have to make the best of it this year and work hard together.

"We have to do the best we can as a team because we know we're only going to get so many chances so you have to make the most of it. I think you only get a chance to win a Stanley Cup once or twice in your career sometimes, so you want to do the best you can."

The Senators will make their ninth straight appearance in the playoffs, but they have won only four series -- including two in 2003 when they advanced to the Eastern Conference final against New Jersey.

The pressure on the Senators will be immense in the first round vs. Tampa. Many predict Ottawa will make quick work of the defending Stanley Cup champions, but none of them are Senators players.

The Senators know the Lightning will play the role of underdogs, despite their lofty status as the last team to capture the NHL title.

"We know those are games that are going to go on off the ice, but it shouldn't have any effect on what happens," said Senators defenceman Chris Phillips, who will return tonight after missing three weeks with a knee injury.

'NEXT STEP'

"We know there's going to be pressure on us and rightfully so. It's not anything different than we've faced in the past. We've been a strong team for a number of years and we want to make that next step."

That next step is winning a Stanley Cup. This challenge will be different than the one the club expected when it arrived at training camp in September. Veteran goalie Dominik Hasek was brought in to help lead the Senators to the promised land, but he won't be dressed because of an injury that has sidelined him since the Olympics.

Instead, the pressure will be placed squarely on the shoulders of rookie goalie Ray Emery. But Senators coach Bryan Murray isn't worried about a lack of experience going into the post-season.

"In spite of what you guys think, the regular season is important and we had 113 points," said Murray. "That means a lot. I believe what you do through the regular season helps you to build confidence for the playoffs."

The Senators know they will have to take advantage of the Bolts' weak goaltending. Ottawa beat Tampa four times this season, but the Senators know the opening round will not be easy.

"I don't know why we would be over confident," said captain Daniel Alfredsson. "We respect them and we believe that they're a strong team. We don't think just because we beat them four times during the regular season we should be taking anything for granted."


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