(AP) – The Ottawa Senators are looking forward to Sunday’s Heritage Classic against the Vancouver Canucks.
But they know their focus has to be on picking up two points rather than the novelty of playing outdoors.
After a 6-1 loss to Detroit on Thursday, the Senators find themselves five points back of the Red Wings for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
Sunday’s game at BC Place will be the first in a four-game Western Canada road trip for the Senators and could have a significant impact on their playoff aspirations.
"We’re going to have fun with everything leading up to the game and playing the game, but at the same time we’re professionals," center Zack Smith said. "We need the two points. We know how important it is. It will be different, but we’ll be ready."
The Heritage Classic will be the Senators’ first experience with a stadium game and players say they want to enjoy the atmosphere and revel in the excitement of playing in this kind of environment.
"It’s going to be a lot of fun," forward Mika Zibanejad said. "I’ve seen a lot of these games on television and even played them on video games so it’s going to be fun to be part of one."
Smith, a native of Maple Creek, Saskatchewan, has a number of friends and family attending the game.
"I played outdoors in the AHL and it was awesome," Smith said. "It was different, a lot of fun and it’s still competitive because there’s two points on the line."
Senators coach Paul MacLean believes the excitement of the Heritage Classic could be exactly what the team needs after the deflating loss to the Red Wings.
"I think we should be looking forward to the opportunity that we have in Vancouver and the Heritage game," MacLean said. "I think it’s going to be a good stage for us to be on and I think it’s a good thing for us. I think it’s exactly what we need. It’s something, a big event like this to really get us focused and get us ready to play."
Like the Senators, the Canucks are on the outside of the playoff picture and two points Sunday would be instrumental in their push for a postseason spot.
Vancouver ended a seven-game losing streak with a 1-0 victory over St. Louis on Wednesday, but the Canucks fell 2-1 in a shootout to Minnesota on Friday. Earning three out of four possible points in its first two post-Olympic contests, however, has Vancouver on the cusp of wild-card position.
"I’m really excited about some of the structure that we have in our game," said coach John Tortorella, adding it must continue.
Tortorella’s team has scored six goals in the last six games. It will now try to generate more offense in a stadium that seats more than 54,000.
"I think once you’re out there you’ll really realize how many people are in the stands, but it’s gonna be special for sure," said leading scorer Daniel Sedin, who hasn’t scored a goal in 21 games in 2014. "It’s gonna be fun to be part of that, and to get a chance to play in one of those games, so I think it’s a once in a lifetime and it’s something I’m gonna remember for a long time."
The Senators anticipate both teams will enjoy Saturday’s practice and will take time to soak in the atmosphere, but once the puck drops Sunday it will be business as usual.
As a native of New Westminster, British Columbia, forward Kyle Turris has been looking forward to this game since it was announced. Turris will have close to 40 friends and family on hand for the game and says he wants to make the most of the experience.
Turris has been in the stadium to watch the CFL’s B.C. Lions and says he even had the opportunity to play football as a teenager in the stadium, but says this will be unlike any other game.
"I’m really excited," Turris said. "It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be great. I think it will be a great experience. It will be a different atmosphere, but I think it will be fun."
Like his teammates, Turris knows the focus has to be on playing the best game possible, but doesn’t believe that has to come at the expense of enjoying the opportunity.
"You want to take in the experience and how neat it is and learn from it for the future," Turris said. "At the same time you want to realize it’s an important game and one that goes toward the standings. It’s one we need to win."