With the final match-ups set, the NHL playoffs will once again feature a first-round Battle of Ontario, as the Toronto Maple Leafs take on their ugly cousins the Ottawa Senators in a series that will certainly feature no love lost between the rivals.

After dousing the upstart Sens in three of the last four Stanley Cup playoffs, the Leafs find themselves in a new situation this year. Not only will the Buds have home-ice advantage, but they are coming off a 6-0 drubbing of Ottawa and a domination of the regular season series between the two-a flip from previous years. Of course, the dream first-round tête-a-tête between the Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens was squashed by a Boston victory over New Jersey yesterday, but hey-that’s what the later rounds are for.

Not that the Battle of Ontario isn’t something for all hockey fans to look forward to, but let’s face facts: the Sens have an 800-pound psychological gorilla on their backs, and I ain’t talking about Zdeno Chara. From thrilling come-from-behind victories to straight-up dismantlings, the Leafs have made a habit of emotionally scarring Ottawa more times than a nerd on prom night.

And the horizon isn’t looking too sunny for Bytown. With star goalie Patrick Lalime recovering from a sprained knee and late-season acquisition Peter Bondra reading the fine print of the Corel Centre boards up close and personal thanks to a Tie Domi bodycheck, the Sens won’t exactly have all cylinders firing come Thursday. To be fair, the Leafs will be without Owen Nolan, and could most likely be without Darcy Tucker and Ken Klee, but back-to-back shutouts to end the season seem to have quelled those fears for the moment.

The Leafs Nation have waited with baited breath for more than three decades now for their team to go the distance, and with a first-round knockout of the Sens, they could be well on their way to the promised land.

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