Captain crunch time

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:06 AM ET

On an off day in the Eastern Conference semi-final, Daniel Alfredsson was roaming the hallways of Scotiabank Place, accompanied by his dog, hitting the gym and handling both weights and weighty questions.

The play of the Senators captain has been one of the big reasons why the Senators find themselves in this good place today, presented with the opportunity to close out the New Jersey Devils tomorrow night in East Rutherford, N.J.

The Senators lead the best-of-seven series 3-1 and they are 5-0 in series in which they have placed themselves in such an advantageous position.

Alfredsson has always been a reflection of his team (or maybe it is the other way around) and right now both are playing perhaps their best post-season hockey ever.

His is the heartbeat of this team and right now it is not racing, but is under control.

Alfredsson has sometimes had that pulse pounding recklessly as he darted here and there, working fiercely, but accomplishing little.

It is almost as though Alfredsson and the Senators have learned that less is more this spring.

Alfredsson is playing with a controlled fury. Is there a harder-working elite player in the playoff tournament?

"I was a late bloomer and I had to work for everything I got," said Alfredsson, who is tied for the team lead in playoff goal scoring with linemate Dany Heatley, each with five.

"That goes back to when I was young. I love outworking the guy next to me, trying to beat (Devils defenceman) Colin White to the puck and get him off the puck. There's competition there. I love scoring goals, too, but the competition, that's what I enjoy."

"Alfie, Alfie, Alfie!" could be heard from the mouths of the record crowd of 20,248 in Game 4 at Scotiabank Place and after years of conflicting emotions on the part of Senators fans toward their captain, it seems now he has finally won them over.

Wasn't it just five months ago that some of those same fans were wondering if the time had come to trade Alfredsson after his and his team's slow start?

"I don't have a problem with that. They know how I can play and I didn't play as good as I can," said Alfredsson yesterday. "It doesn't bother me too much what people say. They know it as much as I do. It's not like I'm mad at anyone. I'm more frustrated with myself."

Senators GM John Muckler said he is happy to see Alfredsson enjoy this time after unflinchingly taking the heat earlier this year.

"It's nice to see him be able to perform the way he wants to perform. He never said a word. He just accepted the blame and the criticism, acted very professional and went about his business," said Muckler. "That's what he's doing now, going about his business."

You can put Alfredsson's name at the top of the list of candidates for the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP.

Revelations

Alfredsson said he can't see himself being one of those players who hangs around in a reduced role when his skills begin to decline. "Then I'll retire, there's no question. I love comparing things with golf. I'm a 3-handicap. If all of a sudden I start shanking the ball and I'm a 10-handicap, I probably wouldn't play a lot of golf. That would be the comparison to hockey for me." ... Just a suggestion, but the Senators probably don't want to take four straight minor penalties again tomorrow night. The penalty killing has been great, but why push it?

Hear and there

Muckler has had some false starts when it comes to predicting great things for his team. "They feel now that they have an opportunity here. We've had opportunities in the past, but I guess we just didn't know how to grasp it. We just weren't ready to win," he said yesterday. But ... "I've been around teams for a long time and there's just a feeling you get sometimes, you just feel this is going to happen because of the way they carry themselves. It's obvious the chemistry is different on this hockey club than it's ever been."

Speculations

Senators forward Jason Spezza had two (!) more blocked shots in Game 4. Teammate Chris Kelly, who compared Spezza's first in the playoffs in Game 3 to the Loch Ness Monster ("You hear about it, but you never see it"), was recovering from his post-game workout Wednesday night in the Senators' gym. "Hey," he said, "remember that quote about the blocked shot? I saw Nessie tonight. It was a good one, too. I had to give him a pat on the back when he


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