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Thursday, April 17

Updated: May 19, 1:53 PM ET

Leschyshyn: 'Our focus is much better'

By EJ Hradek
ESPN The Magazine

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- In 1996, his eighth pro season, Curtis Leschyshyn realized his boyhood dream of winning the Stanley Cup. A Manitoba native and a homegrown member of the Quebec Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche franchise, Leschyshyn helped the Avs win their first championship.

 Curtis Leschyshyn
Leschyshyn
Seven springs and four teams later, the 33-year-old defenseman is a member of the Presidents' Trophy-winning Ottawa Senators. In their dressing room -- a room loaded with skilled young players -- Leschyshyn holds a special distinction: He's the only player with a Stanley Cup on his career resume.

So, as the Senators attempt to advance past the Islanders (the Sens lead the first-round series, 3-1, with Game 5 on Thursday in Ottawa), does Leschyshyn believe his team is ready to make some serious playoff noise?

"I think our team is more on the same page then last year or the year before," says Leschyshyn, who came to Ottawa from Minnesota in a 2001 trade deadline deal. "I think our focus is much better.

"Last year, after we beat the Flyers, then had an easy win over the Leafs in the first game of that series, I think we got a little overconfident," Leschyshyn added. "We thought we could just throw our sticks out on the ice and win the games. We took things for granted. Then, when it got a little tougher, we lost our focus."

The Senators, who established franchise records for wins (52) and points (113) during the 2002-03 season, didn't seem to have any focus in their first game of the playoffs. The Islanders, who finished 30 points behind the Senators in the standings, blasted the Sens 3-0 in Game 1 at the Corel Centre. To make matters worse, hated ex-Senator Alexei Yashin was one of the Isles' stars.

Immediately, the critics wondered if the talented, but perennially disappointing, Senators would be first-round fodder.

"Hey, it's no secret, this team has been through its trials and tribulations," Leschyshyn says. "But this year we really feel we can do it as a team."

That belief helped the Sens overcome their opening-night flop. They won the next three games, including a double-overtime thriller in Game 3, to take a commanding series lead.

In past playoffs, Leschyshyn felt the team was too tentative. He feels that has changed, and credits new GM John Muckler for a change in attitude.

"When he got here, he started talking about winning the Stanley Cup," Leschyshyn says of Muckler, who won five Cups as a member of the Oilers organization. "In the past, nobody talked about that. Now, the guys are talking about it. And that's our focus. That's our goal. We want to win the Stanley Cup. We believe we can win it."

Center Todd White, who scored the OT winner in Game 3, agrees with Leschyshyn.

It's a long ride to win a Cup. But I think if we stick to our game and believe in one another, we can go a long way.
Ottawa defenseman Curtis Leschyshyn

"I think we're a more confident team," White said. "I think everybody in this room really trusts one another on the ice. I think that has made us a better team."

"Beating Philly in the first round last year, we got a little taste of winning," said forward Mike Fisher. "We want more of that."

For his part, Leschyshyn is chipping in 15 minutes of steady defensive play and providing some veteran leadership for a still-young group.

"It's a long ride to win a Cup," Leschyshyn said. "But I think if we stick to our game and believe in one another, we can go a long way."

For now, though, Leschyshyn won't get ahead of himself.

"We have to maintain our focus on the Islanders," Leschyshyn said. "They're going to come out hard on Thursday. We have to be ready for the challenge."

If they are, the Senators will get a few well-deserved days off to get ready for the next round. And Leschyshyn will be a step closer to another Cup.

E.J. Hradek writes hockey for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at ej.hradek@espnmag.com.

Islanders
New York
35-34-11-2

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Senators
Ottawa
52-21-8-1

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