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Biggest test yet for Sens

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
If it’s not “must-win” yet, it’s about as close as can be.

The Ottawa Senators return to Scotiabank Place tonight, knowing full well a victory is imperative if they’re to have any realistic hope of erasing the 2-0 lead the Pittsburgh Penguins currently hold in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarter-final series.

“This is a huge game for us, Game 3 of a series,” said forward Cory Stillman of tonight’s pivotal contest (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200). “It’s 2-1 if we can win tonight (and) we’ve gained some momentum again. You look to win both games at home but if we can win tonight, it changes the whole series.”

Stillman and goaltender Martin Gerber should know that better than anyone on this Senators team. Two years ago, their Carolina Hurricanes team dropped the first two games at home against the Montreal Canadiens, then won the next four straight en route to winning the series and, eventually, the Stanley Cup.

“He’s talked about it with a few guys,” centre Jason Spezza said of the veteran Stillman, a two-time Cup champ. “The year they won the Cup, they came back from two down and obviously, it’s a pretty crucial game for us tonight.

“Down three is a pretty big hole to climb out of. They say you’re really not in too much trouble in a series until you lose a game at home, so we’re going to try not to lose a game at home. If we can win our two here, we’re back to square one and starting from scratch. But obviously this is the biggest game for us so far.”

How “must-win” is it? Only two teams in National Hockey League history – the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs (Stanley Cup final) and 1975 New York Islanders (first round) – have fallen behind 3-0 in a series and rebounded to win it. The Isles’ triumph, for what it’s worth, came against the Penguins.

“Now, every game becomes an individual must-win type of situation, there’s no doubt,” Senators head coach/general manager Bryan Murray said in assessing the importance of tonight’s game. “Until you’re out, you’re still there but (when) you get to Game 3 and Game 4, you’d better find a way to win a hockey game and make the series competitive.

“The bottom line is, you still have to win a game. If you win a game, then who knows what happens after that? But you’ve got to allow yourself to get back in the series.”

The Senators can gain a bit of inspiration, perhaps, from the goings-on around the league Sunday night. The Boston Bruins and New Jersey Devils, both down 2-0 in their respective series, won overtime affairs to put themselves in the hunt again.

“Hopefully, we can take some of that momentum,” said Spezza. “You could see how up they were for the games and they were both close games. We may have to win the game late in the game tonight. You just have to be patient.”

But scoring the game’s first goal for the first time in the series has to be in the Senators’ mind, as well – especially if it helps keep what should be a loud Scotiabank Place crowd in the game.

“If we can score the first goal and build the excitement, build the buzz (in the building), you’ll see a different team,” said Stillman.

Added forward Antoine Vermette: “When you come back home, you can feed off that crowd and tonight it’s going to be a big factor for us. It will be nice to play at home and feel (the excitement) in the building.”

But that being said, there won’t be any quit in the Senators if they find themselves staring at an early deficit for the third straight game. Friday night at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh, Ottawa rallied from a three-goal deficit to tie it early in the third before falling 5-3.

“You’d like to score first but if you don’t, you can’t quit on the game,” said Spezza. “We showed that (Friday) night.”

Bodycheck, the official playoff program of the Ottawa Senators, is now available on-line. Check it out right here.

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