OTTAWA – Daniel Alfredsson has been captain of the Ottawa Senators for 14 of the 20 years the modern incarnation of the franchise has been in the NHL.
Over that time, his leadership has almost never come into question. Until now.
When Alfredsson stated that the Senators probably wouldn't be able to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins three straight times to win their Eastern Conference Semifinal series after Ottawa's 7-3 loss in Game 4 on Wednesday night, it created serious shockwaves across the Canadian capital.
It was perhaps not so much what was said, but rather who was saying it.
The ultimate leader, the only captain younger Senators fans had ever known.
How could Daniel Alfredsson say this?
When given an opportunity to explain his comments Thursday prior to the Senators leaving for Pittsburgh for Game 5 on Friday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS), Alfredsson did not take them back. Rather, he stressed the context in which he made them -- that the Senators have not only faced challenging situations all season, they've thrived in them.
"There's no denying we're in tough. Was it taken out of context? Probably, but that's fine. I can handle that," Alfredsson said. "We're down 3-1 to a very good team and going back to their building. We're just going to go in there and give them a hell of a game. We've always responded really well when our backs are against the wall, and this is no different. The good thing is we're still in the playoffs, it's not over. So we're going to go in there and give them everything we have."
A lot of the chatter surrounding Alfredsson's comments was that he had given up on the series, and that was what he didn't like about the fallout Thursday.
"I haven't listened or heard all the comments, but it sounds like [people are saying] I had given up. If you ask anyone and they looked at our series, I don't think there's too many people that would pick us right now. That's what I meant," Alfredsson said. "We have an opportunity and we're still in the playoffs. We have always responded when we were up against the wall and I expect us to do the same thing [Friday] and give ourselves a chance to win a game and come back here again."
Senators coach Paul MacLean, who himself had a brief 13-second meeting with the media after the game in which he expressed the belief that his team will be "coming to play" in Pittsburgh for Game 5, shrugged off Alfredsson's comments.
"The playoffs are hard all the time, it's just harder [now]," MacLean said. "I think, Daniel – I've got no issue with that."
Alfredsson was also asked about grabbing the puck at the end of the game, something that was read by some as a sign he felt he was playing his last home game.
"There's no specific reason," he said. "Could this be my last playoffs? Could this be last season? I don't know. I don't collect sticks or keep a lot of memorabilia at home, but there's no specific reason."
When defenseman Erik Karlsson was asked about Alfredsson grabbing the game puck, he immediately turned around to look in his own locker.
"I actually have a puck here too for him," Karlsson said with a smile. "I always pick pucks [up] for him, his kids always ask for them, and there's always kids around. I don't think it means anything at all. I remember he picked up a lot of pucks in the end of the years. To me that's none of my concern or anything I'm worried about at all."
The Senators held a team meeting Thursday to drive home the point that their best game needs to come in Game 5, and Alfredsson spoke to his teammates about what he said following Game 4 and what he actually meant by it.
His explanation appeared to win over the Senators.
"He's an honest guy. He's pretty frank," center Jason Spezza said. "He's always been a guy who's spoken his mind when he has to. I think things can be taken out of context a little bit too. I think what he was getting at was that our backs are against the wall and nobody's going to give us a chance, the oddsmakers aren't going to give us a chance to win this series, and maybe that's how we like it. Maybe that's how we've played our best hockey all year. I think that's what he was getting at."
As the Senators prepare to play with their season on the line against a powerhouse team that looks unbeatable right now, it may be worth revisiting something else Alfredsson said in the heat of the moment following that Game 4 loss.
"The odds are against us in every way," he said Wednesday night. "I don't think there's much going for us. Maybe that's the way we like it."
Maybe, just maybe, what Alfredsson said was the captain's way of giving his team one final motivational push. Maybe it was more brilliant than anyone gave him credit for.