OTTAWA (CP) - The Ottawa Senators have dug themselves a deep, deep hole.
Ryan Miller stopped 43 shots Monday night as the Buffalo Sabres beat the top-seeded Ottawa Senators 2-1 and head back home with a 2-0 lead in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal. Jochen Hecht and J.P. Dumont scored second-period goals for the Sabres, who were outshot 44-17 and badly outchanced but rode the clutch goaltending of Miller to silence the crowd of 19,816 at Scotiabank Place.
Chris Phillips scored the lone goal for the Senators, who have dropped eight straight playoff games to the Sabres dating back to 1997.
The series resumes with back-to-back games Wednesday and Thursday and Ottawa trying to defy history. The Senators are 0-4 all-time in playoff series after dropping the first two games.
While this wasn't a wild and wide-open affair like Friday night's 7-6 overtime win by the Sabres, Monday's game was just as entertaining as big hits and big saves ruled the day.
The Senators didn't waste any time setting the tone for Game 2, with winger Peter Schaefer absolutely drilling Sabres centre Tim Connolly in a clean but vicious hit at centre ice just 58 seconds into the encounter.
Connolly, who missed nearly two years because of a serious concussion, lay motionless on the ice for a few minutes before being helped off and heading straight to the dressing room. He did not return.
Miller was the only reason the first period was scoreless, his back-to-back pad saves on Patrick Eaves the highlight of the opening 20 minutes.
The Senators continued to press in the second period and maybe a little too much. Defenceman Wade Redden got caught on a bad pinch at the Sabres' blue-line and the speedy visitors came flying down the ice, Dumont finishing a nifty give-go with Daniel Briere to open the scoring 3:33 into the middle period.
Ottawa came storming back to tie the game but Redden was stoned from in-close and captain Daniel Alfredsson looked to the heavens in disgust after missing an open net.
Phillips then coughed up the puck at the Buffalo blue-line, allowing Hecht a clear breakaway and he didn't miss, deking to his forehand and beating Emery between the legs to make it 2-0 at 6:00. And a nervous tension engulfed the Scotiabank Place.
The fans were on their feet, however, just 1:40 later when Phillips atoned for his earlier mistake, sending a fluttering wrist shot from the point that somehow squeezed between Miller's legs to make it 2-1.
The Sens continued to buzz around the Buffalo net and outshot the Sabres a whopping 17-4 for the period, but couldn't get another past Miller. For the second straight game, the Sabres scored twice on only four shots in the second period.
Ottawa defenceman Anton Volchenkov left the game 5:11 into the third period after a wicked collision just inside the zone with Sabres forward Paul Gaustad, the two knocking heads and Volchenkov also bouncing off the dashboard.
The Sens dominated again throughout the third period but couldn't solve Miller, centre Jason Spezza stopped in alone on a breakaway, the puck stopping inches from the goal-line under the sprawled Sabres goaltender.
Ottawa head coach Bryan Murray shuffled his forward lines to try and get the equalizer, Alfredsson moving back to the top line with Spezza and Dany Heatley in the final period.
Notes: NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper were in attendance and sitting side by side. NHLPA executive director Ted Saskin and NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly were also at the game ... Senators defenceman Brian Pothier (upper body) was back in the lineup after missing Game 1. Christoph Schubert was scratched to make room for him. Forwards Tyler Arnason and Brian McGrattan were once again healthy scatches as well ... Hecht (upper body) returned after missing three games. Rookie winger Thomas Vanek was made a healthy scratch.