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B-Sens still battling to break out of offensive funk

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
BINGHAMTON, N.Y. — It's a playoff story line that Bryan Murray knows all too well.

The Senators general manager was behind the team's bench four years ago when Ottawa stormed to the first Stanley Cup final in modern franchise history. But with the berth secured, the Senators sat for nine days before beginning the Cup final against the Anaheim Ducks. The long layoff went a long way toward killing the momentum the Sens had generated in getting to that point.

"It’s strange how it is," Murray said today in reflecting upon that scenario. "You get eight or nine days off and it’s so hard to get that motor started again and get playing. Your bumps and bruises start to heal a little bit, psychologically you’re just starting to feel healthy and then you have to get back into that mode of contact, which is hard.

"Just playing every other night sometimes is the right rhythm and you’re ready to go. You don’t have to practise too hard. You just go out and play."

Now it appears the Binghamton Senators are in the same boat during their Calder Cup Finals series against the Houston Aeros. The B-Sens swept the Charlotte Checkers in the Eastern Conference final, but had to wait out a seven-game Western Conference title series between the Aeros and Hamilton Bulldogs.

Since then, the offence that torched the Checkers for 21 goals in four games has gone dormant, producing only four goals in the first three games of the final, which resumes Friday night at Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena (7:05 p.m., Sportsnet Sens, Team 1200). While B-Sens head coach Kurt Kleinendorst doesn't like to dwell on the nine-day layoff, he knows there's something not right with his team.

"We're a little flat," he said following the team's practice session earlier today. "That nine-day layoff ... I’m not making excuses, but I’m just saying our game hasn’t been quite the same since. We have to be a little more honest, a little more hard working ... to me, that’s where it starts. then it’s going to have to be 60 minutes of playing the right way.

"And our guys know what I mean. When we play the right way, we win. It’s very seldom, when we punch in and play the right way for 60 minutes, that we don’t win the hockey game. This time of year, that’s what it should take. I don’t think 55 minutes is good enough. It’s got to be 60."

All three games in the series so far have essentially been one-goal decisions — the Aeros' 3-1 victory in the opener including an empty-net goal, and the teams followed that up by trading 2-1 decisions, including Houston's victory on Wednesday night. That makes Friday's game especially pivotal, though Kleinendorst won't go so far as to call it the B-Sens' most important test of the season.

"You don’t want to go down 3-1 but at the same time, you don’t go in and tell your guys ‘fellas, this is one we’ve got to win' because if you don’t, you really back yourselves into a corner," he said. "We’ve been down 3-1 (in the opening round against Manchester). I don’t want it to happen again. Honestly, for me, it’s about preparing to play the way we need to play. And when we play the way we need to play, generally we win hockey games."

And with a victory Friday, the series picture changes dramatically.

"it’s a seven-game series and we’re down 2-1 against a real good team," said Kleinendorst. "But every game could have gone either way, so there’s no reason to be frustrated. Are we disappointed we’re down 2-1? Sure. Disappointed we lost at home? Sure. But those are in the books and we’ve got to move forward.

"We’ve got to find a way tomorrow to win a hockey game, because then what we’ve done is turned it into a three-game series, best-of-three. And we’re a pretty good road team, so I don’t think that scares us. That’s what it is right now. We’re going to have to win a game at home and we’re going to have to go to Houston and win a game or two, depending on these next couple go."

Game 5 of the American Hockey League's championship series is set for Saturday night at Broome County Arena (7:05 p.m., Sportsnet Sens, Team 1200). The final two games, if necessary, would be played next Tuesday and Thursday at the Toyota Center in Houston.

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