They are faced with staring down history now and it is, without question, the most imposing of mountains to climb.
But for the moment, at least, the Ottawa Senators will focus on taking the first successful step against the 3-0 stranglehold the Pittsburgh Penguins currently hold in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarter-final series.
Game 4 is Wednesday night at Scotiabank Place, where the Senators haven’t won since March 20 – a string of five straight setbacks. But they are determined, if not utterly convinced, that they can end all of that and send the series back to Pittsburgh for Game 5 on Saturday.
“We’re not done yet,” Senators defenceman Mike Commodore said today after the team’s practice at Scotiabank Place. “Is it going to be tough? Without a doubt. But we’re not done yet and, hopefully, we can start with a good game, a good full game (Wednesday) and see where that takes us.”
It was there for the taking Monday night, when the Senators and Penguins entered the third period even at 1-1. But Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal scored a pair of quick early goals in the opening moments of that final frame, deflating the Senators and pushing them to the brink of elimination.
Senators head coach/general manager Bryan Murray told his players today that it’s now a matter of treating each game going forward as an elimination-style international tournament: Win or you go home.
“We just want to win (Wednesday) night,” he said. “You win and you have a chance for the next step. That’s the only approach you can really take now.
“You can’t worry about winning four games, you’ve got to worry about winning one and hope we can get back to Pittsburgh and it’s a nice day and we can win another one there. But for now, we have to worry about (Wednesday) night.”
It will also be a true test of his team’s character, Murray agreed.
“They have a choice,” he said. “You can play hard and be competitive and treat it as a one-game-at-a-time situation or you can not play as hard as you’re supposed to. I believe we’ll take the choice of playing hard.”
To a man, Murray’s players backed up that sentiment.
“It’s up to us now,” said centre Jason Spezza
. “We can quit or we can try to bring our best tomorrow and push the series on. Obviously, we’ve dug ourselves a deep hole but the series isn’t over. It’s an elimination game now. You lose and you go home. “Hopefully, we can play with that desperation.”
Added forward Cory Stillman: “We can’t accept it. You can’t just come out and show up (Wednesday). We’ve got to come to play and be ready. You know what, it’s been done before. People have come back from three games (down). It’s about playing right again and playing right from the start.”
Clearly, though, it’s not the situation the Senators envisioned back in the fall, when they roared out to a National Hockey League-record 13-1-0 start. Now they’re faced with matching the feat of the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs and 1975 New York Islanders – the only two teams ever to erase 3-0 deficits in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“I certainly wouldn’t have guessed we’d be in this situation but it’s where we’re at right now, so we can’t change anything about that,” said defenceman Wade Redden. “The only thing we can do is come here (Wednesday) night ready to play a game and ready to win a game. That’s what we’re facing now.”
Commodore, for one, is convinced the Senators will do everything possible to avoid just the third playoff sweep in modern- franchise history (1999 vs. Buffalo, 2001 vs. Toronto).
“We’re all professional athletes, we’re here for a reason and we’re here because we don’t mail games in,” he said. “This is the NHL, this is the playoffs. We’re not done and I’ll be extremely embarrassed if that happens.
“But I don’t think it will. We’ve got some team pride and definitely some personal pride. I think it’ll be a good effort tomorrow.”Bodycheck, the official playoff program of the Ottawa Senators, is now available on-line. Check it out right here.