|Jarkko Ruutu (left) and the Senators hope to regain control of their Eastern Conference quarter-final series against the Penguins with a victory before a loud crowd at Scotiabank Place tonight (Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images). |
For the Ottawa Senators and Pittsburgh Penguins, it's almost a little bit like starting over now.
With a split of the first two games at Mellon Arena in the books already, the Eastern Conference quarter-final series between the teams has essentially been reduced to a best-of-five affair. And the Senators have a golden opportunity to strike first in front of what figures to be a sea of waving white towels at Scotiabank Place tonight (6:30 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).
While past history suggests the Game 3 winner in a Stanley Cup playoff series takes a huge step toward advancement, Senators centre said tonight's matchup "is a lot more important to us than just statistically."
"We want to try to grab momentum here, use our crowd and we’re excited to be home now," Spezza said of playing at Scotiabank Place, where the Senators enjoyed the second-best home record in the Eastern Conference during the regular season. "We’ve played well in this rink this year and we want to keep it going."
In forward Jarkko Ruutu's mind, the first two results — a 5-4 Ottawa victory in Game 1, followed by the Penguins' 2-1 triumph in Game 2 — are ancient history already.
"Every game is separate from each other," Ruutu, a former Penguin, said following the Senators' pre-game skate earlier today. "You can't really look in the past. Win or lose, you don't look in the past. Emotionally, you just try to focus on your own game and your own systems."
"We hope it helps us win a game, really. Hopefully, we can feed off it. Pittsburgh generated some momentum from its crowd and we hope that our crowd is as loud as theirs. For the most part, they have been all year. If they can get those towels waving, it’ll be pretty fun out there." - Cory Clouston
Front and centre in that process is making life more miserable for Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who only had to handle 20 shots in Game 2. Peter Regin
beat him with the first one 18 seconds into Friday's game, but the Senators fired blanks the rest of the way.
"If we put more pressure on, it’ll force more turnovers and we’ll get more shots," said Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson
. "When we do, we need people in front and to crash the net a little bit more than we did in Game 2. I think we feel confident overall in our game. When we’re playing our style, especially at home, we’re tough to play against. If we do that, everything (else) follows."
Added centre Mike Fisher: "We just want to keep shooting. (Fleury) played pretty good in Game 2 after the first goal. We know he’s got experience and we know what type of goalie he can be. We’ve just got to keep getting pucks at him and get in front of him. We didn’t do a good enough job of getting in those scoring areas the last game."
And make no mistake about it — everyone involved believes the cauldron of noise likely to be produced tonight can make a huge difference in the home side's favour.
"We hope it helps us win a game, really," said Senators head coach Cory Clouston. "Hopefully, we can feed off it. Pittsburgh generated some momentum from its crowd and we hope that our crowd is as loud as theirs. For the most part, they have been all year. If they can get those towels waving, it’ll be pretty fun out there."
Alfredsson, who's been a part of every home playoff game in modern Senators franchise history, knows exactly how much of a lift the Scotiabank Place faithful can provide.
"We haven’t talked about that once, that they were Stanley Cup winners. That happened in the past ... What happened in the past doesn’t really matter. We know what we’re capable of doing and we just have to do it on the ice. We have a good chance of winning, but we have to prove it on the ice." - Jarkko Ruutu
"You definitely draw from the emotion of the crowd playing at home," he said. "Especially if you get off to a good start, (you) get the crowd into it. That’s what you try to avoid when you’re the road team. You try to get the crowd out of the game and get off to a good start.
"We’ve done well at home throughout the whole year and we feel confident playing here. (But the playoffs) are definitely a big step up for everybody. On the ice, the game is faster but the crowd is into it. Every play is important and you can definitely draw energy from them."
But what's become apparent quickly is the Senators don't intend to be easy fodder for the defending Stanley Cup champions. There's still plenty of work to be done yet, however, if Ottawa is to stage a first-round upset.
"We haven’t talked about that once, that they were Stanley Cup winners," said Ruutu. "That happened in the past ... What happened in the past doesn’t really matter. We know what we’re capable of doing and we just have to do it on the ice. We have a good chance of winning, but we have to prove it on the ice."Around the boards
Heading into today's play, seven opening-round series are tied 1-1 and the Chicago Blackhawks get a chance to even matters with the Nashville Predators with a home-ice win tonight. "It's exciting for the fans," said Ruutu ... No lineup changes were announced by Clouston at his pre-game news conference ... Game 4 is Tuesday night at Scotiabank Place, with fewer than 1,500 tickets still available.