Captain nips Buds

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 12:59 PM ET

If the Senators win the Stanley Cup without having to face the Maple Leafs in the playoffs this spring, captain Daniel Alfredsson says it wouldn't tarnish the NHL title.

As the Senators prepare to open a two-game series vs. the Leafs at home tonight, Alfredsson doesn't buy into the theory that Ottawa must beat out Toronto in the post-season to shake off its demons.

"I don't think if we beat the Leafs in the first round and then we lose in the second round that it wouldn't mean anything. It would be like: 'Who cares?' " Alfredsson said following yesterday's workout at the Bell Sensplex.

"Sure, I'd like to meet them in playoffs and I'm not worried about that because it would be fun. But I don't think we have to meet them in the playoffs (to prove anything). We have a bigger goal in mind than beating the Leafs. We all have one goal here and we want to get it done."

If the Senators are going to meet Toronto in the playoffs, however, the Leafs have to make it there first.

BARELY HOLDING ON

The battle is on for spots in the Eastern Conference playoff race, and Toronto is in right now, holding down the eighth and final spot. But the Leafs, who are on a four-game losing skid, were only two points up on ninth-place Tampa Bay (51-49) heading into play last night and three ahead of Montreal.

Two Ottawa wins over the next couple of days could go a long way to sticking a dagger in Toronto's post-season aspirations.

Not only are the Leafs being beaten, they're beat up as they arrive for this playoff-type back-to-back series which will continue Monday at Scotiabank Place. Top defenceman Bryan McCabe (groin), along with centre Eric Lindros (wrist) and forward Darcy Tucker (ribs) won't be in the lineup tonight.

Though the Senators are 4-0 against the Leafs this season, Ottawa coach Brian Murray is warning his players that these games are anything but gimmes.

"Us overconfident? I don't think we can be overconfident against anybody the way we played (against Anaheim)," Senators coach Bryan Murray said in reference to Ottawa's 4-3 shootout loss to the Ducks on Thursday.

After shaking up every line against the Ducks, Murray is going to return to familiar combinations vs. the Leafs. The big line of Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley and Alfredsson was reunited yesterday.

That meant winger Peter Schaefer was back with Mike Fisher and Chris Neil. Bryan Smolinski was between Antoine Vermette and Patrick Eaves. Vaclav Varada, Chris Kelly and Brian McGrattan were the fourth line.

"I tried some things against the Ducks and it looked like I had guys playing in different places. It didn't really work," said Murray. "But I thought as a team, we kind of lacked energy in that game."

Spezza, back from a chest injury which kept him out of action for 12-of-13 games, said he's looking forward to playing with the two players that he's enjoyed tremendous success with this season.

"Obviously, we're comfortable with each other," said Spezza. "My chest felt fine during the game (vs. Anaheim), but I have to get my (game shape) back."

REDDEN LEAVES PRACTICE

There was one mildly scary moment in practice yesterday. Defenceman Wade Redden left about 15 minutes into the workout complaining about tightness in the groin area. He declared after a visit with trainer Gerry Townend everything was going to be fine.

"It was more precautionary than anything else. I'll be ready to go," said Redden.

bruce.garrioch@ott.sunpub.com


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