Sens rely on Gonchar's playoff experience in Montreal

Ottawa Senators defenceman Sergei Gonchar is 39 years old and near the end of his career, but he will be counted on for his playoff experience in the raucous Bell Centre.

Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens battle at 7 p.m. ET on CBC,

The CBC's Dan Séguin discusses who's in and who's out for Game 1 of Habs and Sens. 1:08

The young Ottawa Senators defence core will look to the veteran leadership of Sergei Gonchar, who is the only Sens player to ever step on the Bell Centre ice for a playoff game.

There is little that separates the two combatants in the all-Canadian first-round series between Montreal and Ottawa. The Canadiens and Senators battle in Game 1 tonight on Hockey Night in Canada (CBC,

Young players will have a large impact on the series, though, as the Sens are dressing four players without playoff experience, while the Habs are dressing five.

But that group for the Sens, especially young defencemen like Jared Cowen and Eric Gryba, will lean on the 39-year-old Gonchar.

Not only has he won a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Gonchar has also played 14 career playoff games against the Habs as a member of the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins.

Ottawa Senators' Sergei Gonchar defenceman has 14 games of playoff experience against Montreal and he's the only Sens player with experience in the Bell Centre. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

"If you think about the playoffs, especially when you're starting in Montreal, it's more about the atmosphere that Montreal is creating for their team," he said Thursday after the Sens morning skate.

"It's very special. When you've not experienced that it's very difficult. I would say the message would be focus on what you have to, don't focus on what's around you."

Sens coach goes with 'tall' task

Sens head coach Paul MacLean confirmed Thursday Craig Anderson will start in goal. He also paired Cowen and Gryba in practice, who stand six feet five inches and six feet four inches tall respectively.

Why did MacLean choose to pair the two tall, young, physical defencemen? He said it's because he has to look up at them.

Gonchar will play with fellow veteran Chris Phillips and Erik Karlsson will play with Marc Methot. Patrick Wiercioch will sit.

MacLean also confirmed former Canadiens draft pick and top prospect, Guillaume Latendresse, will play and Matt Kassian will be a healthy scratch.

Montreal practised at their facility in Brossard, Que., earlier in the morning, which is about 20 minutes from the Bell Centre. There were many fans gathered around the ice surface watching in anxious anticipation of Thursday night's Game 1.

The fan zone around the Bell Centre was also filling up throughout the afternoon and car flags were waving across Montreal.

Habs beat reporter, Marc Antoine Godin, said it takes just one game for the atmosphere in Montreal to jump tenfold.

But he also said the Sens have an edge with their consistent goaltending throughout the season.

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