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Halloween hasn't ended for Lightning
The Senators, tonight's opponent, have proved to be one scary opponent.
By TOM JONES
Published November 3, 2005
OTTAWA - They will step on the ice for the warmups and glance across the rink at their opponent. Maybe then, the thought will cross their minds.
Or maybe it will happen during O Canada, when the players have little to do but stand still and think. For some, it will be when the organ is working the fans into a frenzy in the final moments before the puck is dropped.
When the first little thing goes wrong, it will dash from the back of their minds to the front of their thoughts.
But it is going to happen.
At some point, that nervous doubt - perhaps the worst thought a player can have in the moments surrounding the start of a game - will creep into the minds of the Lightning players.
Can we really win? Can we beat this team?
Oh, some swear that such a thought would never enter their minds. Ridiculous, they say. We're the champs. We're not afraid of anyone.
But you know that deep down, they can't help but think what everyone else already knows:
The Ottawa Senators, tonight's opponent, simply own the Lightning.
"No doubt," Lightning defenseman Dan Boyle said, "they've pretty much had our number since I've been here."
The Senators have pretty much had the Lightning's number since everyone has been here. Tampa Bay has lost five straight to the Senators, including a demoralizing 4-1 thumping at the St. Pete Times Forum on Oct. 21 - a game even Lightning coach John Tortorella said looked like "men against boys."
Even during the 2003-04 Cup season, the Lightning was swept by the Senators, losing four games, including one in overtime, by a combined score of 17-9.
Need more proof?
Tampa Bay has won only two of the past 17 meetings dating to 2000 and just five of the past 29 meetings since Vinny Lecavalier was a rookie in 1998-99.
"It happens. Some teams just seem to dominate others," Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk said. "I don't know if that's the case here, but there's no doubt they've given us problems."
To be fair, the Senators give lots of teams problems. They are 9-2 and picked by many to win the Cup. They've made the playoffs each of the past eight seasons.
"They're a good team. Let's start there," Tortorella said. "They've got good personnel. It's one of the top teams in the league."
But there must be something more. Maybe it's simply a good matchup for the Sens, like a good fastball hitter who can hit even the best flamethrower in the majors.
Ottawa is quick enough to skate with the Lightning forwards and physical enough to push them around. The Sens have good special teams, outstanding goaltending and every Lightning player asked talked about how well-coached they are.
"And sometimes, you just have a comfort level, a certain confidence against another team," Andreychuk said. "I know we have a lot of guys here who love to play against Montreal because they've had some success. You see it all the time."
It's true. Sometimes, it's just one of those things. The Penguins, for example, once went 42 games over 15 seasons without winning at Philadelphia.
Over the past two seasons, the Lightning has run over the Devils (five straight wins) and Hurricanes (one loss in 12 games). Sometimes, a team just has the touch against another. The Senators, for example, have been knocked out of the playoffs in four of the past five seasons by Toronto.
And it's hard to imagine losing against one team over and over doesn't ultimately have an effect on a team's confidence.
"No, I don't think they have gotten into our heads," Tortorella said. "I just think they're a pretty good hockey club and they've had their way with us a little bit here. (Tonight) gives us an opportunity to change the tide."
The only way the tide will change, however, is if the Lightning can change its thinking.
"I don't know about anyone else, but I look at (tonight) as just another game," Lightning forward Fredrik Modin said. "They're a good team. That's all I care about. What happened last year or whatever, that doesn't matter.
"Just another game against a real good team. That's the way I see it."
But until it beats the Senators regularly, taking on Ottawa will be more than another game for the Lightning.