It has been their mantra, one of the biggest keys to reaching this point.
Let's get a little bit better every day, head coach Paul MacLean has preached from Day 1 this season. And it is the same line of thinking that coursed through the Ottawa Senators dressing room today as they looked toward Saturday night and Game 2 of their Eastern Conference quarter-final against the New York Rangers (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).
The Blueshirts fired the first salvo in the best-of-seven affair Thursday night, building a four-goal lead en route to a 4-2 triumph before the typically raucous gathering that fills Madison Square Garden at this time of the year. Now it's the eighth-seeded Senators' goal to even matters before the series returns to Scotiabank Place for Game 3 on Monday (7:30 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).
"You put the whole game together and we weren't horrible for a real long time," MacLean said earlier today in assessing the series opener. "But in the playoffs, you can't be (inconsistent). You've got to be good for the whole game and you've got to be consistently generating scoring opportunities or preventing them. That was the only thing that was disappointing for us.
"With the experience of having Game 1 over, now we move to Game 2 and we have to get better."
The series was essentially decided in a six-minute span that bridged the end of the second period and the start of the third. The Rangers took advantage of Ottawa miscues and quickly turned a tenuous one-goal lead into a 4-0 bulge. The Senators got goals in the final three minutes from Daniel Alfredsson
and Erik Condra
, but the hole they'd dug was too deep to fully escape.
"One of our bigger problems in Game 1 was just making mistakes, and they capitalize on that," said veteran defenceman Chris Phillips
. "When you break down the game and look at the goals, I don't think we were far off. They were capitalizing on some of our turnovers and mistakes and if we eliminate that, it's a really close hockey game. We have to do a better job of that."
Added MacLean: "We can't give up free goals and free opportunities, and that was the part that was disappointing for us as a group. We like to make them earn their goals."
The Senators also know they have to make life more miserable for Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist. With that thought in mind, MacLean suggested he might reunite the trio of Alfredsson, Jason Spezza
and Milan Michalek
to generate more offence. It's a sure hand MacLean has played on several occasions during the season, and to great effect.
"They bring us experience and they're definitely a line that can generate offence on a consistent basis," said MacLean. "If we do that, it makes us have to juggle things ... we might do that in the game or we might do that before the game. We haven't decided yet."
One thing that wasn't missing during today's practice at Chelsea Piers in lower Manhattan was an upbeat attitude. This is a series, the Senators are certain, that has a long road to travel yet.
"We feel like we can play with them and we felt like we played pretty good at times (on Thursday)," said Spezza. "But we kind of got away from our game and that's when they took over. That's what makes them the best team in the East. They were probably a little more consistent than us last night.
"But the feeling is still up. You have to be prepared to lose games in the playoffs and we're not going to win them all. We're still optimistic we can make this a series and beat these guys. We've just got to play a little bit better."
Said veteran blueliner Sergei Gonchar
: "We're going to recognize what we need to do to be better and we're going to be better, and way better the next game (after that)."