OTTAWA -- Exciting is not the answer for the Ottawa Senators in this series.
The Senators played an exciting game Tuesday night -- and went home with a 7-4 loss to Pittsburgh in Game 4 at Scotiabank Place. It was an ugly loss that puts the Sens on the brink of elimination in this best-of-7 series; it also convinced them that they can not trade chances with a supremely skilled team like the Penguins.
Defenseman Chris Phillips believes his team needs to be a bit more boring, beginning in Thursday's Game 5 at Mellon Arena. The veteran defenseman believes it is the only way his club can turn around a series that has progressively gotten away since the Senators sprung a 5-4 upset on the defending champs in Game 1 last Wednesday.
In seven days, Ottawa has taking a dizzying ride from potential giant killers to almost-eliminated. Along the way, they have watched an inspired Sidney Crosby lead the Penguins to three wins in a row by a cumulative score of 13-7.
Despite the fact that only 21 of 234 teams have erased a 3-1 series deficit since the advent of the seven-game series, Ottawa still believes it can come back.
"It's not insurmountable because it is not over," Phillips said. "Obviously we did a lot of things that we can't do if we want to win. But, in saying that, we got one game to go and play and we are going to do everything we can to win that game. Then, we'll come back home and play another one. It sounds boring, but that's what we got to do."
To make that plan come to fruition they will have to be much better than they were Tuesday night.
After using a buzzing forecheck and a willingness to punish Pittsburgh in the attacking zone to dominate the first few minutes, Ottawa lost its way rather quickly in what many Senators suggested was a must-win game.
They repeatedly turned the puck over, generating odd-man rushes for a Penguin team that rejoices in using its speed and its skill to get in on the counterattack.
Somehow, they escaped the first period trailing just 1-0. But more turnovers and a lack of discipline turned the rest of the game into a nightmare. Things were at their worse in the first 6:12 of the second period when Ottawa allowed three even-strength goals to spot Pittsburgh a 4-0 lead.
Crosby had two of those goals, sandwiched around one by Matt Cooke. Crosby's second goal, on a harmless line rush, chased goalie Brian Elliott.
"We felt we needed a momentum change a little bit," Ottawa coach Corey Clouston said. "He was starting to get rattled and he was struggling."
Elliott stopped just 15 of 19 shots, but he was clearly a scapegoat for a team-wide meltdown.
"We're in this together," said center Mike Fisher, who was a minus-1 and managed just one shot. "We have to help him out more. I mean, they are getting breakaways and point-blank chances. We have to help him out. It's a group effort."
Ottawa showed some heart in clawing the game back to a 4-2 deficit on goals by Chris Neil and Daniel Alfredsson, his first of the playoffs. But Max Talbot scored a shorthanded goal to kill any hope of a further comeback and the teams traded goals the rest of the way, with Ottawa never getting closer that two goals.
"You can look at it as (us) being frustrated or you can look at it as a pretty good sign of character to have to keep battling back and try to change the game," said Phillips, who was minus-3 in his assignment of playing against the Crosby line. "We did that, but we kept making mistakes that they capitalized on. That's tough, but like I said, (the game is) over now."
For these Senators, the mistakes of the past must be forgotten. Thursday must be the beginning of a shift-by-shift mindset for as long as the series continues. There is no more big picture, only an attention to the things they must control.
Those were the messages conveyed by the clichés flowing out the Ottawa dressing room on Tuesday night. Now, though, they must put those hackneyed expressions into action Thursday at Mellon Arena.
You look at the first three games and they were all close games and we believe we have it in that dressing room," Phillips said. "We just have to go and do it, obviously. Talk is cheap."