And the 40-year-old Pittsburgh Penguins winger has once again taken his pound of flesh from the Senators in this year’s first-round series. This time, however, Ottawa hasn’t blinked. “We’re really not intimidated,” said rugged Senators winger Chris Neil.
Neil has never been intimidated in his life but what’s refreshing this spring is that neither are his teammates.
The Penguins, led by Roberts, have played the body hard in this series but the Senators have punched back.
“We haven’t backed down,” said Ottawa centre Mike Fisher. “I think we’re definitely more resilient. We’ve been rising to the challenge and competitiveness of the playoffs. It has been a really physical series and different guys are stepping up.
“(Mike) Comrie is playing physical, every guy is chipping in with hits – and that’s what you need, team toughness,” added Fisher. “I think that’s what we’ve shown more now than we ever have.”
The Senators have long had the talent, their 10th straight trip to the post-season the proof of that, but people have questioned their toughness and their heart.
“We have a totally different team in here from years past,” said Neil. “I think we only have four of five guys that have been here through all those Toronto series. I think we matured as a team. We brought in some new guys, some new blood.
“You look at a guy like Joe Corvo, he’s been unbelievable and he’s never even played in a playoff series before. . . . Tom Preissing, Mike Comrie, guys playing great and stepping up.”
The diminutive Comrie, all 5-10 and 185 pounds of him, fought Colby Armstrong in Game 2 after the 6-2, 188-pound Penguins winger violently crashed into Senators goalie Ray Emery earlier in the game.
Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson sent Roberts flying with a big hit in Game 3 while fourth-line winger Christoph Schubert has hit every Penguin in sight.
“We’ve done a fair amount of contacting ourselves and I like that,” said Senators head coach Bryan Murray. “You respect people that compete real hard. We have played well.”
Heading into Thursday night’s Game 5, the Senators held a 3-1 lead in the series.
Emery likes what he’s seen. His team has responded in a physical series.
“We were watching games from the other series and noticed that there weren’t any hits in some of those games,” said Emery. “Our games, it seems like guys are flying all over the place and banging and crashing – on both sides. . . .
“That’s a testament to how much these guys want to win and what they’re willing to sacrifice to help the team.”
No. 1 centre Jason Spezza said his team has had to fight for every inch of ice in this series.
“We’re playing a pretty physical series. It’s not an easy series out there,” said Spezza, who has been hit hard by the Penguins. “But we haven’t panicked and we’re playing for each other.”
Alfredsson, who has been here for every single playoff game over the last decade, says the difference this season is that his team is not bent in trying to show people how tough they are.
They’re just doing what’s needed.
“Maybe in the past people thought we weren’t tough enough so we had to go out and show everyone we were tough,” said Alfredsson. “I don’t think we feel that way now, we feel that if we have a chance to finish checks we will and we have a lot of guys that do that really well.”