Phillips, A-Train up to challenge

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:10 AM ET

As Sidney Crosby made his way to the podium yesterday at Scotiabank Place, he was being chased by a bunch of people carrying cameras, microphones and notepads.

On the ice, the Pittsburgh star's pursuers have been Senators defencemen Anton Volchenkov and Chris Phillips. Everywhere Crosby goes, he has those two to contend with.

It was Phillips and Volchenkov who got the better of Crosby and the Penguins in Ottawa's 6-3 victory Wednesday in Game 1.

Crosby can expect the same kind of attention tomorrow in Game 2 at Scotiabank Place.

"Ever since I can remember it's been like that," Crosby said of having to try and shed defensive schemes. "That's a challenge you deal with each night. A lot of times, that's the fun part about playing. When you're playing against bigger, physical guys on defence, you get punished a little bit more, but the fun part is trying to adjust and finding ways to get around that.

"They're out there doing their job and, as an offensive player, you have to go out there and do yours."

But Phillips doesn't have any less respect for Crosby after the Senators got the better of him in one game.

In fact, Phillips said, Ottawa has to do a better job in Game 2 because the circumstances could have been much different if officials hadn't called back an early third-period goal by Crosby.

"Well, he still showed up on the scoresheet, so that's what makes him so good," said Phillips. "It's just about trying to take away his time and space and it's not just myself and (Volchenkov). It's the three forwards that are out there playing against him at the same time.

"You need (Ray Emery) making stops. We know a guy like Crosby is too good not to get chances. You know they're going to happen, so we've got to limit the really good ones."

But Volchenkov and Phillips relish the role. That might be why it's no coincidence they both signed new contracts with the club earlier this week. They enjoy playing together and it has shown.

Prior to this season, Phillips played in the shadow of Zdeno Chara for a couple of years and probably didn't get enough credit for his strong play.

If you need further proof that Phillips stepped up his play, look at Volchenkov, who last year was nothing short of disappointing, then turned around and led the NHL in blocked shots in 2006-07.

Having a steady partner obviously helped Volchenkov rediscover his confidence.

"They're both fairly conservative players," said Senators coach Bryan Murray. "Neither one of them gambles position-wise very often. They don't try to do things with the puck that they're not capable of doing. That's a big compliment to them.

"Quite often, you see a shutdown pair and you want to have an offensive guy with them, but he's quite often a liability. But these two guys really don't care about points. They care about looking after their own end."

Phillips and Volchenkov's teammates have been impressed what the duo has accomplished. They like the idea that the two take pride in playing well defensively.

"Phillips and Volchenkov have been outstanding playing against the top guys all year, in every game," said centre Mike Fisher.

"They've been tremendous for us. They really like the challenge of playing against a guy like Crosby."

Volchenkov and Phillips are doing what comes naturally. They have seen the ice against the likes of Peter Forsberg, Jaromir Jagr and Mats Sundin.

"We put them together early in the year hoping we could replace what we had last year with (Chara). Volchenkov is the guy that has emerged the most, but (Phillips) has been consistently good for a period of time," said Murray.

Phillips said playing a key defensive role is important.

"If we didn't do that, I don't know what we'd be good for," said Phillips with a smile. "It's a fun challenge to put yourself up against the top players on other (teams) and to challenge yourself to try to keep them off the scoresheet."

A challenge Phillips and Volchenkov need to keep answering if the Senators are going to win this series.


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