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GAME: Ottawa Senators at Buffalo Sabres.

PLAYOFF SERIES: Eastern Conference semifinals; Sabres lead 3-0.

TIME: Thursday, 7 p.m. EDT.

The good news for the Ottawa Senators is they may have Dominik Hasek back in net for the first time since February. The bad news is one more loss extends their streak of playoff futility.

Facing elimination but with the possibility of the future Hall of Famer starting in goal, Ottawa will try to stay alive in the postseason when it meets the Buffalo Sabres in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series.

Buffalo has won nine straight playoff games against Ottawa since 1997, but to extend that run, may have to beat Hasek - the Sabres' all-time leader with 234 regular-season wins.

Hasek took part in the Senators' morning skate Wednesday, his first time practicing extensively since injuring his groin while competing for the Czech Republic during the Olympics.

"I can feel a huge improvement," the six-time Vezina Trophy winner said. "I finally feel like a goalie."

Ottawa coach Bryan Murray said Hasek "probably could play if he had to, but he's not going to" before Game 3 on Wednesday. Rookie Ray Emery gave up J.P. Dumont's goal 5:05 into overtime in a 3-2 loss.

"I think we're playing good hockey," Murray said. "I think energy-wise, effort-wise, we asked our good players to play hard, I thought they played hard for the most part. We just don't get the puck into the net often enough."

The Senators, 3-8 all-time when facing elimination, averaged more than 3.8 goals per game during the regular season but have scored just three times on their last 72 shots dating to Game 2.

"Down 3-0 is tough," Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson said. "We want to get it going, get some confidence and we can probably be dangerous again."

The Senators have registered 100-plus points five times in the last seven seasons, but have advanced to the conference finals only once, losing to New Jersey in 2003.

The Sabres, making their first postseason appearance since 2001, are one win away from beating the top seed in the East.

"Since Day 1, no one thought we were going to make the playoffs," Dumont said. "We knew we had a lot of talent and character to do better than that. And we've showed it and proved it to everybody. ... We don't care what people think of us."

Part of the Sabres' postseason success has been getting out to an early lead. Buffalo has scored the opening goal in nine straight games, two short of the NHL record set in 1973 by Chicago.

"The series isn't over," Buffalo defenseman Jay McKee said. "We won't be fully comfortable until we've got four wins.

The Sabres shrugged at the possibility of seeing Hasek playing against them.

"If he does, fine, if he doesn't, we don't even want to comment on that," McKee said.

Sabres center Tim Connolly missed Game 3 with an upper-body injury suffered Monday in Buffalo's 2-1 win and is still day-to-day. Defenseman Dmitri Kalinin is recovering from a lower-body injury that is expected to keep him out until Monday at the earliest.

Game 5, if necessary, will be Saturday in Ottawa.

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Senators - 1st seed; beat Tampa Bay Lightning 4-1, quarterfinals. Sabres - 4th seed; beat Philadelphia Flyers 4-2, quarterfinals.

PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Senators - Martin Havlat, 7 goals; Dany Heatley, 9 assists; Havlat, Heatley and Jason Spezza, 12 points; Zdeno Chara, 19 PIM. Sabres - Dumont, 6 goals; Daniel Briere, 9 assists and 12 points; McKee, 18 PIM.

PLAYOFF SPECIAL TEAMS: Senators - Power play: 26.6 percent (12 for 45). Penalty killing: 86.3 percent (38 for 44). Sabres - Power play: 16.6 percent (9 for 54). Penalty killing: 86.0 percent (43 for 50).

GOALTENDERS: Senators - Emery (4-4, 2.99 GAA); Mike Morrison (no appearances); Hasek (no appearances). Sabres - Ryan Miller (7-2, 1 SO, 2.31); Martin Biron (no appearances).

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