BUFFALO, N.Y. - Dressed in black and wearing a frown to match, ever-brooding Buffalo Sabres co-captain Chris Drury made it clear Wednesday that his focus was on the future and not the past.
Drury wasn't in the mood to entertain questions about what happened in February, when he was knocked out and bloodied by Ottawa forward Chris Neil's blindside hit. And forget the bad blood that exists between the Sabres and Senators as they prepare to open the Eastern Conference finals.
Drury was only looking forward to getting the best-of-seven series started in Buffalo tonight.
"I don't think I have a choice," Drury said. "If you get caught looking behind you, you're not going to be ready for the next challenge. ... It's our job to get mentally and physically ready for Game 1."
The Senators are prepared, too, although coach Bryan Murray was pleased to know there were enough story lines to keep everyone occupied this week.
"I think we all know the history," Murray said. "It's a matter of just playing now."
There's been plenty to discuss about the Northeast Division rivals. The series is a rematch from last year, when Buffalo eliminated Ottawa, the East's top-seeded team, in five games in a second-round series.
And then there's what happened Feb. 22, when Neil's check sparked a brawl between the teams.
Drury downplayed the hit, even though he missed four games because of a concussion.
"I don't really haven't have any feelings on it," Drury said. "For me, it ended when I stood up, got stitched up, showered up and that was it."
Neil was glad Drury wasn't seriously hurt, but added Wednesday that he wouldn't have done anything different.
"That's part of hockey," said Neil, who was not penalized on the play. "If that hit's there in the playoffs, I'm going to make it. It doesn't change my outlook on things. I've got to play physical. And I want them to be aware when I'm on the ice."
The Sabres are back in the conference finals for the second straight year, attempting to advance to the Stanley Cup finals for the third time, and first since losing a six-game series to Dallas in 1999.
The Senators are making only their second conference finals appearance and have never advanced to the Cup finals. The closest they came was losing Game 7 of the 2003 East finals to New Jersey, one of many defeats that have led to Ottawa earning the label of postseason underachievers.
Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson has appeared in every playoff game in franchise history, and believes this year's different.
"There's so many things that are different that you can't compare it to previous years," Alfredsson said. "We're happy where we are now. And we're happy at this stage, four teams left, and we're just going to try to make the most of it."
The Senators closed the regular season by going 31-7-8 and are 8-2 in the playoffs, needing five games each to eliminate Pittsburgh and New Jersey.
"We're both good teams," Senators star forward Jason Spezza said. "I don't get caught up in the underdog, not underdog. It seems like everyone's looking to figure out who the underdog is and it's a waste of all our time talking about it."
Both teams have yet to trail in a series this postseason, although the Sabres have been tested more. After eliminating the New York Islanders in five games in the first round, Buffalo struggled to eliminate the New York Rangers. The Sabres squandered a 2-0 series lead before rallying to win in six games.
"I don't think it matters that it's the Senators," Sabres goalie Ryan Miller said. "We can't get caught up in, â€˜It's a title match. It's a grudge match,' or whatever boxing terminology everyone's been throwing around. It's hockey. We've got to play."
The Senators are led by their top line - made up of Alfredsson, Spezza and Dany Heatley. It's a trio that has accounted for 21 of Ottawa's 33 goals this postseason. The Senators have had 14 players score at least a goal, but are not as balanced as the talented and speedy Sabres. Only one Buffalo regular - defenseman Jaroslav Spacek - has yet to register a point, while 13 players have at least four points. AP-CS-05-09-07 1935EDT
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