Murray's happy at home

Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson receives the Prince of Wales trophy after the Sens win...

Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson receives the Prince of Wales trophy after the Sens win over the Buffalo Sabres during game four of the NHL Easter Conference Finals at HSBC Arena in Buffalo N.Y., on Saturday May 19, 2007. The Sens won the series 4-1. (Sean Kilpatrick/Ottawa Sun)

CHRIS STEVENSON

, Last Updated: 7:52 AM ET

BUFFALO -- The Prince of Wales Trophy had been packed up in its big blue box in the middle of the Senators dressing room and tipped up onto a red dolly, ready to go.

They had taken all the pictures, Senators centre Jason Spezza with his brother, Matthew, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty in another, captain Daniel Alfredsson, everybody in the Senators family and some visitors taking their turn with the stately piece of silverware sitting on a table in front of a couple of Gatorade containers and next to a bowl of orange slices.

Senators coach Bryan Murray walked into the near-empty room and those remaining realized Murray had not had his picture taken with the trophy.

Senators vice-president of communications Phil Legault busied himself unpacking the trophy and Murray got his moment, sitting in a player's stall, the trophy in front of him.

"Smile," said somebody. "This is a good thing."

"I can't," said Murray. "I can't get my face to relax."

It has taken him 25 years, but Bryan Murray is finally going to get a chance to coach in the Stanley Cup final.

He's been there before, of course, with the Florida Panthers in '96 and the Anaheim Ducks four years ago, but he was the general manager then.

He decided to leave the Ducks in 2004 to return to coaching, to come home to be near his native Shawville, where he could have chance to win the Cup and to be near his father, Clarence, who was in ill health (and has since passed away).

He came back to coaching, giving up the better job security of a manager, for a moment like this, sitting in a stall with a trophy, a silver reminder of a significant step taken.

'TOUGH DECISION'

"It was a tough decision at the time, but the right decision for myself and my family and all my friends around Shawville and the area," said Murray of his move. "I'm real proud of the group...so far we're on path.

"This is where you want to get to, isn't?"

What did it mean to him, he was asked up on the podium after Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson had snuffed the Sabres for good in overtime.

"It means I can coach," he said, as if anybody needed more proof.

Some snickered when he first mentioned making this group of sometimes soft, offensively gifted players more blue collar, as he put it in training camp.

It seemed an impossible task in the first couple of months of the season and in November, there were questions about everyone -- players, the manager, the coach.

Owner Eugene Melnyk, who was there in the surprisingly subdued dressing room yesterday, issued his vote of confidence. Murray chided, coaxed and cajoled this bunch and did exactly what he said he would do.

Who, last year, could have imagined Senators 50-goal man Dany Heatley backchecking the way he did late in the second period?

He blocked a shot by Sabres defenceman Toni Lydman, won a battle for the puck and sent captain Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza away for a 2-on-1 that resulted in the Senators' second goal with 39 seconds left in the period.

TWO-WAY PLAYERS

Murray got Heatley and Spezza to buy into the benefits of becoming better two-way players.

"I can't say enough about what we learned last year and through this season," said Heatley.

Since Melnyk gave that vote of confidence, the Senators are 53-18-8, including their 12-3 record in the playoffs.

They met the challenge of facing arguably the best player in the league in Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round. They allowed them but one win.

They met the challenge of facing arguably the game's best goaltender in Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils in the second round. They allowed them but one win.

They met the challenge of facing the best team in the regular season in the Buffalo Sabres in third round. They allowed them but one win.

Now it will be either the Detroit Red Wings or the Anaheim Ducks in the final.

"Pick your poison," said Heatley. "We're three-quarters of the way there. As good a feeling as this is, we've got to go back to work and get ready for the finals."

Murray stood there with an "Eastern Conference Champions" hat on his head, the room now almost empty.

"It means a lot, just to be able to come back to Ottawa where you've grown up, been around a lot of family and friends who are big fans,"he said quietly.

"We just have to make them as proud as we possibly can now in the finals."


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