With their season on the line, the Ottawa Senators have turned to Pascal Leclaire to start in goal Thursday in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the Penguins in Pittsburgh (7 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC).
Leclaire made his Stanley Cup Playoffs debut in the second period of Game 4 Tuesday, replacing Brian Elliott with the Senators trailing 4-0. Leclaire stopped 20 of 23 shots in what ended as a 7-4 defeat that leaves the Senators trailing 3-1 in the series.
"I'm excited," he said following Thursday's morning practice. "It'll be fun, especially here -- it's a loud building. It's a great challenge for our team. I'm definitely excited to be part of it."
Leclaire went 12-14-2 with a 3.20 goals-against average in 34 regular-season games. He arrived in Ottawa at the 2009 trade deadline and entered training camp as the undisputed starter, but injuries and poor play allowed Elliott to take the top job.
However, Leclaire said this game is too important for him to focus on changing the minds of any critics.
"My focus is the game tonight and not what happened this year," said Leclaire. "What's done is done. I don't have any control over it. Tonight I'll go battle with the teammates and we'll see what happens."
Elliott allowed four goals in three of the first four games in the series, including the Ottawa's only win, a 5-4 victory in Game 1 at Mellon Arena.
Elliott's .853 save percentage is the lowest among the 20 goaltenders to see action this postseason, and his 14 goals allowed are the most.
Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson said it didn't matter who was in net, because the team needs to play better in front of their goalie if they want any chance of taking the series back to Ottawa for Game 6 on Saturday.
"Our focus is to play better in front of our goalie," said Alfredsson. "We've got to manage the puck better, don't turn it over, don't give them the easy rushes, and if we do that, we'll give ourselves a good chance."
Clouston said following Thursday morning's practice that the decision came down to Elliott or Leclaire -- No. 3 goalie Mike Brodeur was not an option.
"Obviously Brian struggled," said Clouston. "People brought up Brodeur, who played in the American League for us and had played well for us earlier, but people have to do their homework. … Brodeur hasn't been that healthy -- he's had hip, back and groin problems throughout the last month and half, so he's not even that healthy. I know he played very well for us earlier, but he's not going to play tonight."
Clouston had said Wednesday, prior to naming a starter, it would be unfair to blame the team's goaltending for the hole the club finds itself in.
"It's easy to point fingers, but as a team we have to be better," he said. "We're playing a team that capitalizes on their chances. The mistakes we've made, they've made us pay for; we haven't done the same to them. We've had the opportunities, we haven't made good on them. It magnifies our mistakes and it magnifies the goaltenders. We've had success this year because we've been a team and we're only going to continue that if we do it as a team. We have to score on our chances, and when they make mistakes we have to capitalize, and we have to cut our mistakes down."
Clouston also announced one other lineup change for Thursday -- Shean Donovan will replace Jonathan Cheechoo on the fourth line. Cheechoo didn't have a shot in 7:13 of ice time in Game 4, his first NHL action since being waived and demoted to the American Hockey League on Feb. 12.
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