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Friday, May 23, 2003
Senators just following the comeback trend

By EJ Hradek
ESPN The Magazine

OTTAWA -- In seasons past, losing three of the first four games of a best-of-seven playoff series wasn't the best blueprint for Stanley Cup success. Usually, that kind of series start got you an early tee time.

This year, however, a couple of teams have decided that life begins in Game 5 -- including the Ottawa Senators, trying Friday night to make the fourth successful comeback from a 3-1 deficit in these Stanley Cup playoffs.

In the first round, the startling Minnesota Wild and the Vancouver Canucks managed to dig themselves out of such ominous situations. The Wild shocked the hockey world by fighting off elimination -- and the Colorado Avalanche -- on three separate occasions en route to the series victory. The Canucks, meanwhile, climbed off the ice to eliminate the St. Louis Blues in similar fashion.

I don't think either team has more pressure than the other. It's do or die for both teams.
Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson

As a result of their recuperative powers, the Wild and Canucks earned a date with one another in the second round. In that series, the Wild again fell behind 3-1 before getting their act together. The Canucks, who should have known better, couldn't stop the Wild, who won Game 7 in front of a hostile crowd in Vancouver.

These previous reversals of fortune bring us to the Senators, who are trying to pull a similar Houdini act in their Eastern Conference final series against the New Jersey Devils. The Senators, who won the Presidents' Trophy by racking up 113 regular-season points, won the series opener, then lost the next three. Down 3-1 to the playoff savvy Devils; the Senators were on life support going into Game 5.

But with hard work and a couple of good bounces, the Senators regained their playoff pulse with back-to-back wins.

Now, with the series tied and a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals at stake, can the Senators complete the comeback?

It's impossible to predict, but the Senators' rise from the dead had Devils coach Pat Burns reaching for a little psychological edge.

"The pressure all of a sudden is going to fall back on them," Burns said. "They are going back home, and they have to win at home."

Publicly, at least, the Senators weren't biting on Burns' assessment.

"I don't think either team has more pressure than the other," said Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, coming off his best performance of the series in Game 6. "It's do or die for both teams."

The Senators do bring two slight statistical advantages into Friday's Game 7 at the Corel Centre.

First, the home team has won 69 of the 109 Game 7s played since the league went to the best-of-seven format in 1939. And second, in 19 of the 34 times that a club has come back from a 3-1 deficit, they've gone on to win the series.

The Devils, on the other hand, can lean on experienced stopper Martin Brodeur, who is 3-3 in six previous Game 7s. Brodeur, with two Cups and an Olympic gold medal on his resume, won't be flustered by the moment. Senators goalie Patrick Lalime, who rebounded from a poor performance in Game 4, has made just one Game 7 appearance -- a 3-0 loss in Toronto last spring.

In the end, though, Burns knows that none of this will really matter once the puck is dropped.

"It's all going to come down to who gets the good bounces," Burns said. "And who makes less mistakes."

The way these playoffs have gone, don't be surprised if the Senators become the fourth team to rally from the abyss to a series victory. This year, that come-from-behind blueprint seems to be in vogue.

E.J. Hradek writes hockey for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at ej.hradek@espnmag.com.