KEYS TO GAME 1
By Scott Burnside, ESPN.com
Senators: Let us first assume that the long layoff between games (the Senators haven't played since a week ago Saturday afternoon) isn't going to be a factor. The guys have been playing since early September, so they're not going to forget which way to put on their skates because they haven't played in nine days.
But most of that time has been filled with folks praising the Senators to the skies. Everyone from Daniel Alfredsson to Dean McAmmond has been deified in the wake of the Senators' strong run to their first Cup finals, especially in the Ottawa media. How long does it take to clear those thoughts from the memory banks and focus on the task at hand? That's the question du jour for Game 1. Look for Alfredsson, the team's captain and conscience, to help set the tone early. Taking advantage of early power-play opportunities also will go a long way toward getting the Ducks to back off their aggressive game plan.
Ducks: Since Game 1 of any series is all about tone, especially when it pits two teams that are virtual strangers to each other, it behooves the Ducks to set their tone early and often. That means driving the net, pounding the Ottawa defense and, perhaps most significantly, making life difficult for the Senators' splendid top line of Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley.
Coach Randy Carlyle would love to see a repeat of the Western Conference finals, when the tight checking of Samuel Pahlsson, Travis Moen and Rob Niedermayer forced Detroit coach Mike Babcock to split up his dynamic tandem of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. Game 1 also will be a litmus test for Scott Niedermayer, who struggled mightily vs. the Red Wings. If Niedermayer can put those missteps behind him, the Ducks' chances of winning their first Stanley Cup go up exponentially.
Game-time call: Rust, schmust. The Sens take the opener, 3-2.
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Barry Melrose (5/27): "No lavender suit this year at the Cup finals. I had some tough decisions; it was like draft day. I had to go with what was right for the Stanley Cup finals! . Previewing the games if you go strictly by size, I like the matchup for Anaheim. They are going to play a physical style. If they do that and play smart, that's fine, but they were very stupid against Detroit and gave Detroit a lot of power plays. I don't think they can do that against Ottawa. They can be physical against Ottawa, but they can't be taking the bad penalties -- interference, charging crosschecks. If they take cheap penalties against Ottawa, I think it can come back to haunt them.
"If you just look at the six defensemen, I think the six D-men of Ottawa might be better than the six 'D' of Anaheim. I love the way [Chris] Phillips is playing right now; [Wade] Redden has never played better; [Anton] Volchenkov is fantastic and emerging as a excellent NHL defenseman; [Joe] Corvo and [Tom] Preissing have been such a great addition to the team, on the power play and five-on-five puck moving.
"So, I like the Ottawa defense. Sure, with star quality, you look at the two Norris Trophy winners on the Ducks [Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer], but match the six against six and you have to give the edge to Ottawa."
So, starting Ottawa netminder Ray Emery marches to the beat of a different drummer. We know this from the eye-wounding fashions, the unique cars, the provocative mask designs that have included convicted rapist Mike Tyson. But cockroaches? Come on. Surely there is a line players must draw in their own sand. But sadly for insects everywhere, this is not so with Emery.
True story. Earlier this season during a game at Carolina, Senators players discovered a cockroach in their dressing room and the topic turned (as it always does when you find such creatures in the dressing room) to how much money it would take before someone would eat it. The answer is apparently $500.
"The cockroach was in the dressing room in Carolina. The boys had some money up on who would eat the cockroach. So I ate the cockroach," Emery said Sunday.
"How did it taste?" asked teammate Mike Fisher, who was sitting beside Emery during the interview session.
"It was all right. I guess I'm a bit different. I'm interested in a ton of different things," said Emery in what is a classic understatement.
The money collected went to buy another tattoo, another Emery diversion. It is this uniqueness that has endeared Emery to his teammates and fans alike, even if he sometimes adds to the gray hair quotient for coach Bryan Murray and GM John Muckler (remember how Emery overslept for the team charter to New Jersey in the second round? Then got in an accident on the way to the airport and missed the charter anyway? Ha, ha. That was a good one.). In the end, if he plays the way he has for the first three rounds, no one will care what creepy-crawly Emery decides to ingest. -- S.B.