Monday, May 19
May 19, 12:33 PM ET
Sens must defy history before repeating it
By Chris Stevenson
Special to ESPN.com
OTTAWA -- Perhaps they still don't completely understand it, not yet.
The Ottawa Senators have pushed deeper into May than they have ever been before, but now they cannot afford to measure the remaining life in their season by anything more than minutes.
They are still learning about this mystery that is playoff hockey, a game played in the full blush of spring, on bright weekend afternoons and so different from the one that is played in the cold dark night of the regular season.
The Ottawa Senators enter Monday night's Game 5 of their Eastern Conference finals against the New Jersey Devils just one loss away from summer.
History is not on their side.
The Senators are 0-6 in games in which they have faced elimination, but Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, who, along with Senators goaltender Patrick Lalime, has taken much of the heat for the Senators' predicament, insists this team is different.
"You can't compare the (Senators) teams from different situations," said Alfredsson, who had a miserable two games in New Jersey as the Senators fell behind 3-1 in the series. He had but one shot in the two games, was in the penalty box for two goals Saturday and lost the puck which resulted in a Devils' short-handed goal.
"This is a different team. This year, teams have come back from 3-1 deficits. Minnesota did it twice, which never happened before. As long as you believe, anything can happen. And we definitely believe."
The Senators are invoking their outstanding regular season as part of their preparation for tonight.
"It's a huge game for us and we will respond. You don't get to this point without being a successful team," said veteran defenseman Curtis Leschyshyn. "What we've done all year gives us confidence that we can continue to win hockey games. We haven't got here by fluke. We were the best team in the league all year and we played well in the playoffs up to this point."
Well, yes and no.
The Senators won two playoff series for the first time in their history this season. They looked good in beating the New York Islanders and the Philadelphia Flyers, two teams with average goaltending.
They have struggled against the Devils, the Eastern Conference's playoff warhorses who are 8-0 in series they've led 3-1 and bidding to reach their third Stanley Cup final in four years.
The Senators, a team which thrives on puck possession, can't get the puck away from the Devils, who have been relentlessly patient. When the Senators do get the puck, Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur has been there, posting a .947 save percentage in this series.
Lalime's save percentage is .879 and for many people, those two numbers add up to a 3-1 advantage for the Devils.
The Senators' vaunted right wing, which includes Alfredsson, Marian Hossa and Martin Havlat, has yet to score a goal in this series.
Complicating the Senators' challenge of coming back from a 3-1 deficit is the fact the people who believe most in them are the guys they are playing. The Devils are the only team in the last 60 years to come back from a 3-1 deficit this late in the season -- in 2000 against the Flyers in the East finals.
The Devils won the first game of that series and then dropped the next three, the same thing the Senators have done in this series.
But there are two differences:
• The Devils didn't have home-ice advantage, so, after losing Game 4 at home, they had to go to Philly to play for their lives in Game 5. The Senators get to play Game 5 at home.
• After losing Game 4, then-Devils coach Larry Robinson launched into a paint-peeling verbal ravaging of his team that could be heard through the cement walls of the Devils' dressing room at the Continental Airlines Arena. Legend has it Robinson's ripping of his team was so loud even Jimmy Hoffa, rumored to be buried in nearby Giants Stadium, told him to keep it down.
Robinson's tirade became part of Stanley Cup lore as the Devils came back to win the next three against the Flyers and then beat the Dallas Stars in the final for their second Stanley Cup.
"I remember that night," Devils center John Madden said Sunday. "I didn't play in that game because I hurt my knee, but I remember coming down the hallway I could hear it. He did lay into them pretty good."
Senators coach Jacques Martin is the picture of stoicism at this time of year, a man who preaches controlled emotion and adherence to the system.
"Larry just said you guys are letting yourself down without playing the best hockey you can play at this time of year," Devils captain Scott Stevens said. "I think that's what really sank into our heads and we realized he's right and we were cheating ourselves a bit and not playing the way we can play or playing the system.
"I think that's what really sunk home, and definitely helped us overcome that series."
Said Brodeur of the comeback: "Sixty years, huh? It's not easy to do, but we're living proof that it can be done."
So, the Devils know what it takes and they are hell-bent on making sure the Senators don't get the time to find it.
"We have the feeling if we play well, it's just a matter of time," Brodeur added. "If we don't play well, they can win this one and the next thing you know, they can sneak one in our building and we're coming back here.
"We've given ourselves breathing room, but we want to clinch in the first game. Hopefully our experience will help us. We want to do it as quick as we can. We have three games to win it."
The Senators can prove something to themselves with a win over the Devils in Game 5.
They can prove they are a team that has made progress, they they are a team that is beginning to understand what it takes to win here in May.
"We're in a corner right now," said Alfredsson, "but we're still confident that we can win this series."
Chris Stevenson of the Ottawa Sun is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.
Will Jason Spezza make his playoff debut in Game 5? Possibly.
Spezza participated in Monday's morning skate with the Senators' usual extra players, however there was speculation that he'd be inserted into the lineup in hopes of jump starting the Senators' power play which is 0-for-15. He likely would replace right winger Chris Neil.
Coach Jacques Martin was noncommittal when asked about Spezza's status.
"It will be a game-time decision," he said. "We'll analyze the people we have, and at 7 o'clock we'll know who's in an who's out."
- E.J. Hradek