SPORTS

Senators look to shed underdog label when they take on rival Canadiens

04/13/2015 04:52 EDT | Updated 06/19/2015 04:59 EDT
OTTAWA - Pardon the Ottawa Senators if they don't feel like underdogs heading into their first-round playoff series against the Montreal Canadiens.

While the Canadiens finished the season atop the Atlantic Division and will be considered the favourites when the series kicks off Wednesday night at Bell Centre, the Senators finished on an impressive 23-4-4 run to surge into the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

With that kind of momentum going into the post-season, Senators head coach David Cameron was understandably confident about his team's chances of advancing to the next round.

"I expect to win (the series)," Cameron said. "I'm sure the guys in the room expect to win it. I'm sure Montreal expects to win it. I would be really disappointed going into a playoff series if we didn't expect to win it. I would be shocked."

Recent head-to-head examples back up Cameron's claim. Seventh-seeded Ottawa knocked off No. 2 Montreal in five games in the first round of the 2013 playoffs.

And the Senators matched up well against the Canadiens this year winning the season series 3-1, but it should be noted two of those wins came against backup goaltender Dustin Tokarski instead of Hart Trophy candidate Carey Price.

The Senators relied heavily on the goaltending of rookie Andrew Hammond down the stretch. Hammond, who finished the season with an impressive 20-1-2 record, will be making his Stanley Cup playoff debut.

"My approach is just going to stay the same," Hammond said. "At the end of the day we feel like we've been playing playoff hockey for a while now. We've been playing a lot of close games and our approach has gotten us this far and I'm no different, so I don't see the point in really changing things."

Throughout their late run the Senators had a number of different players contributing, but no line was more impressive than the trio of Clarke MacArthur, Kyle Turris and Mark Stone.

That line factored in 15 of the Senators last 21 goals, with the 22-year-old Stone providing the biggest impact. The rookie winger had 18 goals, including six game-winners, and 30 assists over his last 47 games.

The Senators also received significant contributions from their young players. Forwards Mike Hoffman and Mika Zibanejad and defenceman Mark Borowiecki gained invaluable confidence and experience playing down the stretch.

"That's what winning does," Cameron said. "Everybody brings something to the team, and when your team wins I think they feel that much better about what they bring. It's usually an easier sell when the team is winning."

And Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who scored a hat trick against Montreal in the 2013 series, thrives in games against the Canadiens. He had two goals and two assists in four games against Montreal this season and said he always gets up for games against the Habs.

"I always said I have a lot of friends and family that are Habs fans," Pageau said. "It gives me extra motivation to work hard and maybe to beat them and help the team beat them. It's always fun to play these matches."

The only change expected for Wednesday's game is the addition of Milan Michalek, who missed the last 11 games with a head injury. Michalek will replace Zack Smith and is likely to line up on the left side on a line with Zibanejad and Bobby Ryan.

Notes: Steve Stirling will join Dave Cameron's coaching staff for the playoffs. Stirling, a former NHL head coach, has been an assistant coach with the Binghamton Senators. D Erik Karlsson was given a maintenance day Monday. RW Chris Neil is cleared to play, but is not expected to be in the lineup for Game 1.

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