OTTAWA -- Try as he might, Derick Brassard could not change the storyline for Thursday's Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinal between the Ottawa Senators and New York Rangers at Canadian Tire Centre.
"It's not about me and Mika," the Senators center said after Wednesday's practice, referring to Rangers center Mika Zibanejad -- the player he was traded to Ottawa for last summer. "There are other guys on the teams. It's about the 23 guys on both rosters."
True enough, but they were the scoring leaders of their respective squads in the first round, with Brassard racking up eight points (two goals) in Ottawa's six-game elimination of the Boston Bruins and Zibanejad picking up four points (one goal, an overtime winner) in New York's six-game bouncing of the Montreal Canadiens.
It has been a particularly strong resurgence for Brassard, the 29-year-old who had a disappointing regular season (14 goals, 39 points in 81 games) but also owns the reputation of being a strong playoff performer.
"There's always pressure," said Brassard, who led the Rangers in postseason scoring three of the last four springs and now has 20 goals and 52 points in 65 playoff games. "I think I can handle it pretty well. I've always showed up on the big stage.
"At this time of year, you expect guys to step up and be better players. You see a lot of players on our team doing that and that's why we're here today."
The Senators moved the promising 24-year-old Zibanejad because, after missing the playoffs two of the last three seasons, they had a must-win now mentality. In his first season on Broadway, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Swede had 14 goals and 37 points while being limited to 56 games because of a broken fibula.
"When I saw the schedule and I saw the playoff tree, I knew it was a possibility that it was going to be them," Zibanejad told the Rangers website of facing the team that made him the sixth overall pick of the 2011 entry draft. "It's like any other team now and I just want to get to four first.
"For me, it's just winning this series. Taking a game at a time and winning. It's all about the team right now. I knew it was going to come up and be brought up a lot, but for me, try and just win."
The Rangers are favored to advance, but fully expected is a low-scoring, close series. New York will have to deal with Ottawa's suffocating 1-3-1 defensive structure and the Senators will have their hands full with a veteran blue line that will pose bigger problems than they faced against the Bruins, who had three regular defensemen injured.
Senators coach Guy Boucher, a psychology major, reached into his background while addressing the media Wednesday.
"From what I hear from everybody, we don't seem to have much of a chance," Boucher said. "The odds are 10/1 in Vegas against us. Everybody seems to think they're going to roll all over us so I guess they're a pretty good team.
"They don't have many flaws, but I also know they're getting urgency now to win that Cup because they've been talking about it for many years now. That's how we consider those guys, Stanley Cup contenders year after year, and that's what they're after now so that's what we're up against."
The Senators could get a boost from the return of Tom Pyatt, a defensively sound winger who was knocked out of the Bruins series with an upper-body injury in Game 4. But ruled out Wednesday was Mark Borowiecki, a physical defenseman who suffered a lower-body injury in Game 2.
The Rangers have no injuries.