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Ottawa Senators to be healthy, well-rested bunch when finals begin

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

With the Senators enjoying an eight-day break between winning the Eastern Conference and Monday's opening game of the Stanley Cup final, Ottawa will be one well-rested and healthy bunch.

"Unless something happens in the next couple of days, we should have everybody very close to 100 per cent," Murray said Tuesday as his players enjoyed a day off from practice for the second time in the past three days since eliminating the Buffalo Sabres in the Eastern Conference final.

It's a luxury the Senators have been afforded by a mixture of their performance in the first three rounds and a little bit of luck.

"That's the way it's got to be if you're going to be a champion," Murray said.

Ottawa has needed just 15 games to progress to the modern-day franchise's first appearance in the final, eliminating the Pittsburgh Penguins, New Jersey Devils and finally the Sabres in quick and tidy succession.

"We've been just that - a tight team," Murray said. "We've been real good defensively. Ray (Emery) has been real solid with the exception of one or two goals. We've done a good job of getting traffic in front of the net and getting to loose pucks.

"The result is short series."

Without ever having to leave the Eastern time zone, they've spared themselves the travel wear and tear the Detroit Red Wings and Anaheim Ducks have endured in battling it out for the Western Conference title and most importantly, had the uncanny fortune of dodging almost any injuries so far.

With the exception of fourth-line right-winger Patrick Eaves, who suffered from concussion-like symptoms after being levelled with a hit from Pittsburgh's Colby Armstrong in Game 3 of the opening round, they've managed to keep all hands on deck through the first three rounds.

Last year, for example, Buffalo's run was arguably derailed in the conference final against the eventual champion Carolina Hurricanes when the Sabres' defence corps was decimated by injuries.

By comparison, the Red Wings and Ducks both lost key contributors in the forms of Mathieu Schneider and Chris Kunitz, respectively, for the remainder of the playoffs.

"You need a little bit of luck. Whether it's a slapshot off the tip of a guy's finger . . . it's tough to stay healthy at this time of year," said Senators right-winger Mike Comrie, who was slowed earlier in the last round by a suspected shoulder injury suffered at the end of the New Jersey series but is working his way back up to full speed.

So, while the Ducks set out to eliminate the Red Wings in Game 6 at home later Tuesday night, some Senators players, including Comrie, had time to work out and catch their breath before picking up the practice pace again Wednesday.

"At this time of year, you want to be firing on all cylinders as a team," he said. "We've played five games the last three rounds . . . It does a lot of good for your body. I'm enjoying these days."

And Murray wants the players to be enjoying these days, too, without getting caught up in the "hurricane" caused by the excitement.

It's his first trip to the finals as a coach and the first for most of the players, so he's happy they can get a chance to soak up the atmosphere before getting back to serious business.

"This is a great game, a great business, but a tough business. Only one team's going to win, so when you do win, you've got to enjoy it. Enjoying this week is important," he said.

Of course, the down side to all this down time brings with it the fear the players will be rusty or lose focus by the time the puck drops.

While general manager with Anaheim in 2003, the Ducks enjoyed an 11-day break before facing New Jersey in the final and came out flat in the opener.

That experience taught Murray that the level of physical desire and competition is tough to replicate, even through intense practice.

Murray intends to ratchet up the spirit in practice with some competitions and is toying with the idea of even holding an intrasquad game.

"The negative side is maybe your body recovers a little too much physically," he said.

One big difference, Murray said, is that in Anaheim's 2003 run, the Ducks weren't exactly in a hockey market like Ottawa where the scrutiny was as intense.

While J-S Giguere was making talk-show appearances and players could fly under the radar in public, the Senators are experiencing life in a fishbowl with the Ottawa area suffering from Senators fever.

"The fishbowl effect is a good one and I like it," Murray said. "The coaches aren't the only ones putting pressure on them."

Keeping their focus likely won't be a problem. The Senators players have been maintaining a low profile since returning from Buffalo on Saturday evening with the Prince of Wales Trophy.

Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley, for example, have been hanging around the house entertaining family and keeping an eye on the Western Conference final.

Emery ventured out Saturday after a private team dinner and even he, who's been the centre of enormous media focus throughout the playoffs, found the attention getting a little too hot for his liking.

"It was kind of scary," he said Monday. "People yelling in your face, people found out where I lived and were ringing the doorbell - it was almost too much for me."



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