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Senators bracing for 'game of year'

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Matt Cullen and the Senators hope to even up their first-round playoff series with the Penguins with a victory on home ice Tuesday nIght (Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images).

Even as their backs are being pushed closer to the wall, the Ottawa Senators haven't quite lost the air of confidence they brought into the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Sunday night's 4-2 victory over the Senators at Scotiabank Place gave the Pittsburgh Penguins control of their Eastern Conference quarter-final series. The Stanley Cup champions, who now hold a 2-1 edge in the best-of-seven affair, can take another big step toward advancement with a second straight victory in Ottawa in Tuesday night (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).

With that in mind, there is indeed no understating the magnitude of Game 4 from a Senators perspective. Not that anyone in Ottawa colours even thought to try.

"Tomorrow is a big game," captain Daniel Alfredsson said earlier today after the Senators held an optional practice at Scotiabank Place. "If we win tomorrow, we’re right back in it. If we lose, we’ve dug ourselves a deep hole. We look for tomorrow’s game as our chance to regain momentum in the series and go from there."

Senators centre Jason Spezza hammered the point home even further.

"It’s the most important game of our year," he said. "It seems like we’re going to be saying that about every game now, but it’s definitely an important one. We don’t want to get down 3-1."

Not against an experienced squad of finishers like the Penguins, to be sure. But while Sunday's setback was disheartening, it was anything but devastating to a shorthanded squad that has faced more than its share of adversity this season.

"Just like we have all year," goaltender Brian Elliott said when asked what it'll take to rebound from the Game 3 loss, in which Penguins superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin burned Ottawa again when it mattered the most. "We’ve bounced back from bad games or bad stretches. That’s how you stay positive.

"You know that the grass is greener on the other side. It’s just getting to that other side. We had a good light day today and everybody’s laughing and joking around. That’s a good sign."

In an effort to juice up a Senators attack that's been limited to three goals in the last two games, Senators head coach Cory Clouston admitted he's "tempted" to shuffle the deck up front, perhaps adding playoff veterans Jonathan Cheechoo and/or Shean Donovan to the mix.

"It's not that big a hole. It's only one game. I think (the Penguins) came back in series last year and they ended up winning the Cup. Just because it's two (losses) in a row, it's not panic time around here. We've got to maintain our calm, we've got to change a few things in our game plan and change our mindset a bit. All in all, we're working hard and we've just got to create some bounces for ourselves." - Jason Spezza
"They both provide something different," said Clouston. "We're definitely looking at that for tomorrow."

But Alfredsson admitted a collective effort will be necessary to turn the tide against the Penguins in this one.

"We need everybody to play their best game tomorrow," he said. "That’s the way we look at it. Down 2-1, this game coming up is the biggest game of the year and we have to make sure we bring everything we have. If we don’t, we’ll be in a real tough spot. But I think everybody’s going to bring their best."

There appears to be no shortage of confidence that they can get the job done.

"I think we were unlucky (Sunday) night," said rookie forward Peter Regin, the Senators' best player in Game 3. "They had the bounces and I think if we play the same way and we have the bounces, I think we will win. Maybe we have to get a little more traffic in front of the net and be a little more hungrier in front of the net, but I’m sure we’ll get the goals."

Added Spezza: "It's not that big a hole. It's only one game. I think (the Penguins) came back in series last year and they ended up winning the Cup. Just because it's two (losses) in a row, it's not panic time around here. We've got to maintain our calm, we've got to change a few things in our game plan and change our mindset a bit.

"All in all, we're working hard and we've just got to create some bounces for ourselves."

Around the boards

Alfredsson missed five minutes of Sunday's game after taking a thunderous check from Crosby, but brushed off questions about the state of his health today. "I'm fine. I feel good," the captain said, making it clear he'll be good to go for Game 4 ... Fewer than 750 tickets remain for Tuesday's game at Scotiabank Place ... The series returns to Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh for Game 5 on Thursday (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).

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