Sens have an elimi-date

Jason Spezza works on puck control during the Senators practice in this file photo. (SUN/Tony...

Jason Spezza works on puck control during the Senators practice in this file photo. (SUN/Tony Caldwell)

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 11:56 AM ET

TORONTO -- The Senators have a chance tonight to do something they've never done before: Beat the Toronto Maple Leafs when it counts the most.

The Senators can accomplish a feat that has always eluded them with a victory tonight at the Air Canada Centre (7 p.m., CBC) by ending the Leafs' slim playoff hopes.

While the Battle of Ontario is dramatic, this is do-or-die for the Leafs because a Senators win will finally put an end to Toronto's post-season hopes.

That would be sweet revenge for an Ottawa team that has been eliminated from the playoffs four times by the Leafs. The Senators are 7-0-0 against Toronto this season.

"We know there's a lot of people here that hate the Leafs," said Senators centre Jason Spezza. "We know because we hear them cheering every time the out-of-town scoreboard (at Scotiabank Place) shows the Leafs are losing.

"We're looking at this as a big challenge for us. Not only are we battling for first place (in the East), but we know we have the chance to be the team that knocks (the Leafs) out of the playoffs."

FOUR POINTS DOWN

After last night's play, the Leafs trail the Tampa Bay Lightning by four points for the final playoff spot. Led by captain Mats Sundin, they've gone on a tremendous run but there is little margin for error now. A loss tonight means Toronto would miss the post-season for the first time since 1997-98, the year before Pat Quinn took over as coach.

"We're excited about this opportunity for sure because we know that we can knock them out of the playoffs," said Senators centre Mike Fisher. "It's a huge game. We know there's going to be a lot of excitement with it being in Toronto and everything that surrounds the game.

"If we don't play them in the playoffs, then we're going to know that we were the team that knocked them out. We're also fighting for first place (in the East) and we feel like that's important for us as well. We know what this game means."

Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, who has had his differences with Leaf Nation in the past, chose his words carefully while being prodded by reporters in the Ottawa dressing room.

'GREAT CHALLENGE'

"We have to look at this as a great challenge for us because they're going to be playing pretty desperate hockey," said Alfredsson. "They've got their backs to the wall and they have to win. This would be a big win for us if we're able to pull it off."

Quinn, who could be facing the Senators for the final time behind the Toronto bench, put up a brave face yesterday.

"They are a very good hockey club, top to bottom," he said of the Senators. "They have been there for a long time and their attitude this year has been that they are going to be a championship team and they certainly are a solid group and we will have to be on our 'A' game to challenge them. But that's what is in front of us and that is terrific."

Goalie Ray Emery, who was scheduled to start Thursday against the Florida Panthers, will be in the net and will face the Leafs for only the second time this season. Emery said his sore hip is feeling much better and the decision to start Mike Morrison in the loss to the Panthers was more precautionary than anything.

"I could have played against the Panthers. We just decided we wouldn't take the chance," said Emery, who was moving around much better in practice yesterday.

BRUCE.GARRIOCH@OTT.SUNPUB.COM


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