Looking for redemption

DON BRENNAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 2:49 PM ET

It was the lowlight of his career, but Chris Phillips has moved on from his Steve Smith Moment.

"One of those things that I won't ever forget, and every once in a while someone reminds me of it," said the veteran defenceman, glaring then chuckling at his interrogator. "I don't know, it was just disappointing, the play that happened. But I'm mature enough, I guess, or played enough to know that stuff like that happens. It didn't affect me too much."

You remember what happened. The Senators were trailing the Anaheim Ducks 2-1 in the second period of Game 5, one loss from elimination in the Stanley Cup final last season. Phillips, trying to break out from behind his own net, had the puck slip off his stick and into Ray Emery's skates, from where the unsuspecting goalie kicked it over the goal line.

The Senators would pull to within one again, but the Ducks shifted into high gear, winning the game 6-2 to capture the Cup.

Phillips, feeling horribly about his role in what turned out to be the winning goal, stared disconsolately into the TV cameras, telling millions of viewers he knew how former Edmonton Oilers defenceman Steve Smith felt for a similar play in the 1986 playoffs.

Now, Phillips wants to know how Smith felt three of the next four years, when he and the Oilers won Stanley Cups.

'VERY TOUGH'

After a taste of the bitter, it's only right to yearn for the sweet.

"Obviously, initially, it's very tough, when you're right there and don't come away with anything," the 30-year-old "Big Rig" said of last year's run to the final.

"When you have a little time to reflect on it, it was a great experience and a great accomplishment. We went through a lot just to get there. Saying that as well, I think it would sting a little bit forever if you never did win one down the road."

Phillips disputes the notion that 2007 will be remembered as his best shot to win a title in the city he has called home since the Senators made him the first overall pick in the 1996 entry draft.

"For all the things to go right, I think we earned those things," he said. "We worked hard and battled hard to earn the lucky bounces, that's what hard work and sticking together and doing all the right things gets you. We had a great team last year and we went to the finals. To say that was our best chance ... you could go back three or four years ago before that, when we win the President's Trophy ... is that our best chance? Or later on when we had (Martin) Havlat, (Zdeno) Chara, (Dominik) Hasek and those types of players, and never made it to the finals ... it's not always about the personnel you have but how you're all playing together."

The Senators have not played nearly as well together this season, with a decent chunk of the blame on the defensive coverage. Against the high-powered and multi-faceted Penguins attack, that has to change.

To that end, coach and GM Bryan Murray has split up Phillips and Anton Volchenkov, Ottawa's "shut down" blue-line pairing. While Phillips will be reunited with his old partner numerous times throughout the series, he's expected to start Game 1 alongside Mike Commodore.

Along with their obvious height advantage, the two could pose for a before-and-after ad in a hair replacement commercial.

"We have to play (with) five more than six defencemen in the series," explained Murray. "Chris Phillips and Volchenkov, the bigger guys, will have to play more minutes. There's no question. They're prepared to do that.

TURNS IT UP A NOTCH

"We're going to have to recognize (Evgeni) Malkin has made great strides, (Sidney) Crosby is a good player. At the moment they don't play together. There's a whole variety of options they will have."

Phillips, who has always been known as a player who turns it up a notch in the playoffs, is more than prepared for the extra minutes and responsibilities he will get in trying to shut down the Penguins. Anything to get back to where he and his mates were last June.

"It was unbelievable to be a part of that," he said of how the city reacted to last year's Cup run. "Just to see the amount of people out there, and knowing that we made hockey fans out of a lot of people that maybe before didn't follow us, or didn't follow the game, that just got caught up in the excitement of everything. I think it was just so positive, for not only us to see that, but for the whole city, to have something to rally around and be a part of."

And what reason do fans have now to believe?

"For the guys that were there, it's about that the burning feeling of wanting to almost get that high back, of getting into the finals, and playing for the Stanley Cup," said Phillips. "That's just a feeling that's tough to describe, it was so much fun. That little sting to go that much further and win it ... last year showed how much players cared and how much we wanted it. That's even more so when you get a little taste of it."


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