Sun, May 11, 2003 - Page 24 News List

Expectations for Senators begin to rise with wins

NHL PLAYOFFS Although Ottawa has historically not done well in post-season play, there seems to be a sense that this year may be different. But the Devil's in the details

AP , OTTAWA

Daniel Alfredsson is so used to success lately that he expects even more from the Ottawa Senators.

The Senators often failed in the playoffs in the past. This year, the Presidents' Trophy winners stormed through the first two rounds of this postseason.

Alfredsson is confident that the Senators are superior than their next opponent, the New Jersey Devils who are in the Eastern Conference finals for the third time in four seasons.

"I think we've got a better offense than they do, and we can play good defensively," the Senators captain said Friday.

The Devils might disagree with that assessment as they prepared to open this semifinal series at Ottawa yesterday.

But if Alfredsson sounded a little too confident, Senators general manager John Muckler doesn't mind. Confidence is the one thing Muckler believes his team needs to develop more of.

That is key for a Senators franchise that's never made it this far in its 11-year history. Before this year they hadn't won a series in which they were the higher seed. Now they are up against the Devils, who won Stanley Cup titles in 1995 and 2000 and reached Game 7 of the finals two years ago.

"It's just something I'd like to see our hockey club become. That just projects confidence to me, that's all," Muckler said. "And when you do that, there's a little mystique about your hockey club, too. Mystique's a wonderful thing if you can develop it."

There's plenty more than that on the line.

The Senators are attempting to become the first Canadian-based franchise to reach the Stanley Cup finals since Vancouver lost in seven games to the New York Rangers in 1994.

This is a series that features teams with similar trapping-style defensive approaches that are backed by two of this postseason's best goaltenders.

Ottawa's Patrick Lalime has an 8-3 record and a 1.49 goals-against average, first among goalies with two or more playoff starts. Martin Brodeur is 8-2 for the Devils with a 1.51 goals-against average, and a playoff-leading three shutouts.

The Senators are considered to have an edge on offense, which features a deep lineup of speedy and creative forwards, led by Marian Hossa, who has five goals and 12 points, and includes Alfredsson and Martin Havlat.

The Devils haven't been impressed by what they perceive to be the Senators' overconfidence. Ottawa dispatched the New York Islanders in five games in the first round, then beat Philadelphia in six games.

"To get to the Cup, you have to go through somebody first, and that's us," Devils coach Pat Burns said.

But New Jersey is aware that it won't be easy to keep Ottawa's offense in check.

"Tampa and Boston presented other problems," said forward Jamie Langenbrunner, referring to the Devils' two playoff opponents. "This team is a lot more spread. There is no focus on one line. It's on the entire team. That's a change in mind-set for our team and something we have to adjust to."

Added center John Madden: "I don't know what we are going to do with this. It might fall on two lines to become the checking line, so to speak, and keep them off the board."

The teams have only met once before in the playoffs in 1998, when eighth-seeded Ottawa upset top-seeded New Jersey in six games of a first-round series. Ottawa also held the edge this season, winning three out of four against New Jersey.

At least both teams will be well rested at the start.

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