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Stanley Cup Playoffs: Senators tough guys prove their mettle

The Ottawa Senators are preaching a lot about being a family during their first round match up against the New York  Rangers, and some of the tough cousins are making big contributions to the team’s success.

The trio of Chris Neil, Matt Carkner, and Zenon Konopka form one of the most fearsome collections of tough guys in the NHL.

They combined for 31 bouts during the regular season with Konopka doing the majority of the dirty work with 18 fights.

Fighting stats traditionally dip in the post season, and the cement heads take a seat in the press box, however;  Ottawa Senators coach Paul MacLean has leaned heavily on these bruisers in the playoffs, and so far, it has paid off.

Matt Carkner, who was used sparingly throughout the regular season, playing in only 29 games, and sometimes spending weeks as a healthy scratch was inserted into the Senators line up after Erik Karlsson was physically abused by Rangers big man, Brian Boyle, and it was clear to everyone what he needed to do.

It didn’t take the big Winchester Ontario native long to put his stamp on the series, or Boyle.

After just 39 seconds of ice time, Carkner suckered Boyle with several unanswered punches, and the message was sent loud and clear to the Rangers that leaning on Karlsson would not be tolerated by “the family.”

Carkner was suspended one game for his actions, but he had earned his spot in the line up and was on the ice to start game four where he rewarded his coach by assisting on the Senators first goal of the game.

Chris Neil has been a constant force for Ottawa since he came on the scene in 2001. He has fought all comers, and has the skills to chip in offensively on a fairly consistent basis.

Neil scored 13 goals in the regular season, and notched the game winner in overtime of game two after he too dropped the gloves with Boyle.

The big right winger also assisted on Sergei Gonchar’s second period goal in game four that tied the score 2-2.

He is a tenacious forechecker, and a devastating hitter who has rattled more than his share of cages during his career.

Zenon Konopka has been an overall pain in the butt to play against. He has obviously gotten under the skin of the Rangers for three straight games.

Konopka seems to have made it his personal mission to disrupt Brad Richards’ game, and to get in the face of Henrik Lundqvist.

The Rangers netminder has been visibly upset with the Senators’ centre several times in the series, and has taken the time to shove him and slash him when he gets the opportunity.

It’s only a matter of time before Konopka draws a penalty on the star puck stopper.

Plus in Ottawa’s game four victory Konopka won 73 per cent of the faceoffs he took. Gaudy numbers indeed.

The Senators have a chance to take control of the series Saturday, and I’d be willing to bet that these three men will have a big part in it if they do.