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  • Game info: 7:00 pm EDT Mon May 5, 2003

PLAYOFF SERIES: Eastern Conference semifinal; Senators lead 3-2.

For the past few seasons, the Ottawa Senators have excelled during the regular season while fading quickly in the playoffs. The Senators, though, are one win away from changing that reputation.

Ottawa can reach the Eastern Conference finals for the first time in franchise history as its series with the Philadelphia Flyers shifts to the First Union Center for Game 6.

Making their seventh straight playoff appearance, the Senators have only escaped the first round twice. Last season, Ottawa defeated Philadelphia in five games in the opening round before falling to the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games in the semifinals.

The Senators also led the Maple Leafs 3-2 in that series, but Toronto won Game 6 in Ottawa and Game 7 at home.

“We just have to make sure we have everybody doing what they need to do to make us successful,” Senators forward Curtis Leschyshyn said.

The Senators, who finished with an NHL-best 113 points this season, are seeking an Eastern Conference finals matchup with the New Jersey Devils.

Ottawa is coming off one of its best performances of the postseason, a 5-2 win Saturday.

The Flyers jumped out to a 1-0 lead 21 seconds into the contest, but the Senators responded with five straight goals, again raising questions about the effectiveness of Flyers goalie Roman Cechmanek.

Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock eliminated any possibility of a goaltending controversy by announcing after the loss that Cechmanek would be back in goal for Game 6.

“He was great, then not so great so he’ll be great (Monday),” Hitchcock said.

Hitchcock and the Flyers are betting on Cechmanek continuing his trend of playing his best after losses in this postseason. Cechmanek has stopped 131 of 135 shots in five games following a defeat.

“He took some real unnecessary heat yesterday. There were mistakes made far in front of him before they happened to get in the goal,” Hitchcock said. “We’ve had a good ride with him so far, but these are games where goaltenders become huge factors.”

Radek Bonk and Daniel Alfredsson scored quickly on Ottawa’s first two power plays Saturday, with Marian Hossa assisting on both goals.

Cechmanek was yanked midway through the second period after allowing four goals on 16 shots. Both his victories in this series were shutouts, and both followed Flyers’ losses.

“We have one chance and no more. We need to win tomorrow’s game and play better than we did last night,” Cechmanek said Sunday. “I never look (back). For me, next game is important and I have to be ready.”

The Flyers, who haven’t lost consecutive games this postseason, will be looking to force a Game 7 in Ottawa on Wednesday night.

“There are two games left,” Hitchcock said. “They’ve got to win one and we’ve got to win them both. All we’ve got to do is turn this into a one-game series.”

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Senators - 2nd seed; beat New York Islanders 4-1, quarterfinals. Flyers - 4th seed; beat Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3, quarterfinals.

PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Senators - Hossa, 5 goals, 6 assists and 11 points; Chris Neil, 18 PIM. Flyers - Mark Recchi, 7 goals and 10 points; Tony Amonte and Michal Handzus, 6 assists; Donald Brashear, 17 PIM.

PLAYOFF SPECIAL TEAMS: Senators - Power play: 18.0 percent (9 for 50). Penalty killing: 93.3 percent (42 for 45). Flyers - Power play: 10.6 percent (5 for 47). Penalty killing: 82.6 percent (38 for 46).

GOALTENDERS (USE PLAYOFF STATS): Senators - Patrick Lalime (7-3, 1 SO, 1.53 GAA); Martin Prusek (no appearances). Flyers - Cechmanek (6-6, 2, 1.93); Robert Esche (0-0, 2.00).

REGULAR SEASON SERIES: 1-1-2. The clubs played a low-scoring and tight series, with Ottawa outscoring Philadelphia 6-5. The teams split the first two contests and played to 2-2 ties in the final two meetings. Cechmanek and Lalime each posted a 1-1-1 mark, with Cechmanek recording a 1.63 GAA to Lalime’s 1.62.

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