Senators understand high price of advancing
TORONTO -- The real estate here is the most expensive in Canada.
The Battle of Ontario IV, tied 2-2 going into Game 5 Friday night at the Air Canada Centre, has become a struggle for presence in front of the crusty veteran. When the Senators have been able to move into that neighborhood, like they did in Games 1 and 4, they have had success.
When they have have been forced to the periphery -- the equivalent of the scorers' suburbs -- they have been shut out, like they were in Games 2 and 3 as Belfour racked up a shutout string of 157 minutes and 45 seconds (88 straight saves).
"We had to deal with a lot of questions about not scoring and we came out and did the things we said we were going to do, try and get traffic in front of Belfour and it paid off with a couple of goals," said Senators center Todd White.
"Just one of those games. You get whacked a little bit or you try to block a shot, those are just things that happen in the course of a game."
The price being paid in this series by players to get into those tough areas are etched in the faces of players like White and Toronto forward Darcy Tucker. White took a couple of high sticks in Game 4, one from Toronto defenseman Brian Leetch in the first couple of minutes in the game and another from Leafs forward Nik Antropov. White needed 12 stitches to close the damage from the Leetch stick and another three to patch up his tongue after having to eat Antropov's lumber. In between the two, White found time to score his first goal of the playoffs.
"A lot of guys come back from stitches," said White yesterday. "It's not a big deal."
He paused and stuck a couple of fingers in his mouth.
"There goes another stitch," he said, flicking it into a nearby garbage can.
The Leafs, who have beaten the Senators in their previous three playoff meetings, have always understood what it takes to win at this time of year. The Senators are starting to show maybe they now get it.
Winger Peter Schaefer has been a physical force along the boards. Captain Daniel Alfredsson, winger Marian Hossa, center Mike Fisher and defenseman Chris Phillips, among others, all elevated their games in Game 4. They finished checks and did a better job of ramping up the presence in front of Belfour, both of which must continue tonight for the Senators take back the lead in this series. The Senators have been the better team overall, but Belfour has stolen a couple of wins for the Leafs.
The Leafs, meanwhile, are hoping to have captain Mats Sundin and veteran Joe Nieuwendyk, their two top centers, back for the game tonight. They are both listed as questionable, Sundin with a suspected ankle injury and Nieuwendyk with a bad back. Sundin injured his ankle when he crashed into the boards after being tripped by Senators defenseman Wade Redden early in the third period in Game 4.
Nieuwendyk, who has a couple of goals in the series, didn't even start the game because of a flare up of his chronic back trouble. He missed 18 games during the regular season because of his back.
"It's hard to explain these things sometimes for me. I'm hopeful I'll be ready for (Friday).
The knock on the Senators for years is they didn't know what it took to win at this time of year, hadn't learned or earned the high price of admission.
White certainly isn't their biggest player nor has he the reputation for being the toughest. But he has been one of their most physical in this series, leading the charge to get hits on the Leafs' top defensive tandem of Leetch and Bryan McCabe.
"We know especially those two -- McCabe and Leetch -- are playing a lot. As much as we can have to get it in their corners and forecheck them and try and make the 30 minutes they're playing as tough as possible," said White. "We don't want them to have any easy shifts out there."
White's face showed sometimes what the consequences of that kind of play can be.
"There's no pain," said White. "It just doesn't look too good."
There's not much that's pretty at this time of the year.
Chris Stevenson covers the NHL for the Ottawa Sun and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.