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Friday, May 9, 2003
Updated: May 10, 3:41 PM ET
Senators acting like a championship team

By Chris Stevenson
Special to ESPN.com

This is a new place for the Ottawa Senators, new turf, a place they have never been before.

Daniel Alfredsson
Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson leads a potent attack from the right wing position.
They have never made it to the third round, never been to the conference championship.

But they aren't wide-eyed.

They aren't too excited as they prepare for the start of the Eastern Conference final Saturday against the New Jersey Devils. They are not acting like frat boys being given the keys to the baby oil cabinet at the Miss All-World The Thong Remains The Same Contest. If the conference championship is like a ritzy resort, they haven't shown up in flowered shirts at poolside, fish-belly white legs poking out from beneath their Bermudas, the sun glinting off their feet and giving people the tourist-spot equivalent of snowblindness.

Not at all.

They are acting like they belong here.

They are George Hamilton.

There was no excessive celebration at the end of their Roman holiday, eliminating the Philadelphia Flyers and goaltender Roman Cechmanek and getting out of the second round for the first time in seven tries.

"Being happy would be the wrong approach to take," said Senators defenseman Curtis Leschyshyn, who has already assumed the look and manner of Tom Hanks in "Cast Away."

"We're not satisfied with what we've done at all," he said. "Yes, we were happy after we won (the Flyers series), but nobody was jumping up in the air. We congratulated each other and we're ready to move on."

The Senators are acting more and more like a championship team.

Take the way they prepare for a series these days.

They used to spend most of their time looking out. Now they look in.

They used to think and fret about how they would stop the opposition. They broke down trends and tendencies, trying to devise game plans to take away what other teams did well. They still do that to a certain extent, of course. They must. But now the first priority is making the other guys worry about stopping them.

"I can remember when we were playing Toronto (last year)," said center Mike Fisher. "We used to look at all kinds of video of them. Every player, what they were doing.

"When we were playing Philadelphia (this year), were looking at what we did to score goals. We didn't have to worry about what they were doing because we were initiating."

It further exemplifies the growing confidence of the people in this organization. They have finally begun to accept, with the prodding of general manager John Muckler, that's OK to be good, it's OK to be confident, it's OK to believe you are the best.

The focus is really not on the opposition anymore. It's what we do.
Curtis Leschyshyn, Senators defenseman

The Senators have grown to realize that when they play their best, on all but a very few nights, it doesn't matter what the opposition does.

"I think we've proven that over 82 games, that when we do the things that we do well, it's a pretty big challenge for the opposition," Senators assistant coach Perry Pearn said. "When you look at the other elite teams in the league -- Detroit, New Jersey, Dallas, Colorado -- that's very much the attitude you see from them.

"I think it reflects the maturity of our team that they see their focus that way now."

The Senators have gotten to a place where they don't have to worry about two teams now, just one.

"The focus is really not on the opposition anymore. It's what we do," Leschyshyn said. "The coaching staff has done such a good job of preparing us to do what we do well."

A perfect example of that is the Senators' right-wing position.

"The best right side in hockey," as Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock called it, has the power to dictate the course of games and a series. When Senators coach Jacques Martin keeps rolling Daniel Alfredsson, Marian Hossa, Martin Havlat and Chris Neil over the boards, it is up to the opposition to try and find a way to stop them.

So far, nobody has been able to find a way.

"The difference between Ottawa and the first two teams we played is that Boston and Tampa had one great line to watch while Ottawa has one great player on every line to watch," New Jersey Devils coach Pat Burns said. "They pose quite a different challenge for us."

Havlat is among the fastest players in the league and if an opposition coach puts his top two defensive pairs up against Alfredsson and Hossa, Havlat should benefit from a mismatch, either through depth or fatigue.

"I don't think we've intentionally done it," Leschyshyn said. "I think it's just the way things have evolved. Our right side has so much talent. We're fortunate to have three of the best in the league on the right side."

"It's dangerous with those three guys on the ice," Senators defenseman Wade Redden said. "And Neiler creates things, too. He likes to play down low and can create momentum for us, too.

"For me, going up the left side, it's great having those guys going up the right side because I can hit them with speed and get going on the attack."

They just keep going at the opposition in waves.

The right side is strong, but the Senators have depth just about everywhere else, as well.

"We know we are the top team and we should play like it," Fisher said. "We know we have the team to do it."

They are starting to act like it, too.

Chris Stevenson of the Ottawa Sun is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.