Ottawa in fight, too

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 11:51 AM ET

Wherever the ridiculous plotline takes us, it always seems to lead, inevitably, back to the blood feud between the Senators and Maple Leafs.

For most of this hockey season, Ottawa and Toronto have been at opposite ends of the NHL spectrum and nothing demonstrates that disparity more than the head-to-head results.

Seven meetings have produced seven Ottawa wins, several of them dramatically one-sided. The aggregate score is 40-15.

Three weeks ago, you could have looked ahead to this last meeting tonight at the Air Canada Centre and seen nothing of significance. The Senators were off by themselves at the top of the division and looking as if they would easily lead the conference into the playoffs.

Meanwhile, the Leafs were digging themselves a hole so deep there didn't seem time, let alone energy and talent, to get out of it.

But the reality of this day is rather different than that.

The Senators come here needing another win to keep pace with Carolina for the conference lead and the all-important home-ice advantage through to the conference championship.

They can, in the process, drive a near-fatal stake through the hearts of the Maple Leafs and their fans at the end of Toronto's improbable late-season rally.

Having been victimized all those times in the playoffs against Toronto in years past, be assured that it would be with some delight that the Senators would dance on the Leafs' grave were they to win tonight.

The situation is somewhat different than earlier this year when Ottawa toyed with Toronto. The Senators, injury-plagued and slumping, come into this game with just three wins in their past 11 games. Most troubling is the status of Dominik Hasek, who has been out two months now with an adductor muscle injury. He has been practising on a regular basis recently and the Senators were hoping he would be ready to start in goal tonight.

But he left practice after only a few minutes on Thursday and now may not see any action before the playoffs begin.

Backup Ray Emery has a sore hip, while defenceman Chris Phillips is aiming to get back in time for the playoffs. Winger Martin Havlat, coming off a shoulder injury, is expected to play. Defencemen Wade Redden and Zdeno Chara each played their first game in a while this week.

Toronto, on the other hand, is unbeaten in regulation in the past nine, earning 16 of a possible 18 points.

Indeed, the Leafs are the hottest team in the league just now and don't think it hasn't crossed their minds that if they can somehow sneak past Atlanta and Tampa into the final playoff spot, that they might just get thrown together with the Senators in the opening playoff round.

Now, wouldn't that be delicious? The hottest team in the league and eighth seed playing the team they have owned in the playoffs. Do you think there might be a few Leafs whispering, "Who's your daddy? into the ears of the Senators.

In a world where logic and reason rule, the Senators come to town tonight and send the Leafs to their long-expected fate. That makes perfect sense.

But in that other parallel world where the Leafs seem to be existing this past month, nothing makes perfect sense. You can be absolutely sure that nobody -- not Ottawa and not Carolina -- wants any part of them in a first-round playoff series.

The Senators are in a position to do something about it. If they succeed tonight, finish with a perfect 8-0 record against Toronto this year and end this outlandish Leafs playoff dream in the process, they will have helped themselves while putting salve on painful old wounds.

But if they lose .... oh my. The genie will be out of the bottle.


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