Sens shake off last year's semis-opening loss

Updated: April 27, 2007, 12:41 AM ET
By E.J. Hradek | ESPN The Magazine

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- On Thursday night, the Senators had a déjà vu experience. This time, however, they found a different, more enjoyable fate -- a 5-4 win over the Devils in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series.

"Last year, we had a similar experience in the first game of our second-round series against Buffalo and we couldn't lock it down," remembered Ottawa head coach Bryan Murray. "This year, we've been able to do a better job of doing that."

The similar experience that Murray was referring to was an ugly 7-6 overtime loss to the Sabres last spring. In that game, those Sens blew a lead in the final seconds of regulation. Then, just 18 ticks into overtime, Buffalo's Chris Drury (who else?) beat Ottawa goalie Ray Emery to send those Sens home a loser. It was an ominous sign of things to come. Those Senators fell behind 3-0 in the series, finally succumbing meekly in five games.

In New Jersey, these Senators were on the edge of a bigger collapse. They built a stunning 4-0 lead over the Devils in the first 16:39. In those opening moments, everything seemed to be clicking for the visitors.

"We were quick on the puck and getting our shots to the net," Senators defenseman Wade Redden said of the first-period onslaught. "We really took advantage of our chances."

The Devils, on the other hand, seemed to be counting the empty seats at the Continental Airlines Arena (the "announced" crowd of 15,512 was well short of a sellout).

"I think they were just kind of watching," Senators defenseman Joe Corvo said. "We were all over them."

Then, something funny happened on the way to a blowout win. The Devils started scoring. By the 4:57 mark of the second period, New Jersey had cut the lead to 4-3. Suddenly, the Senators were the ones watching.

"I was concerned," Murray said. "I could see that our legs just weren't the same in the second period. I could the fatigue setting in."

But Murray also saw something else -- something he didn't see last spring. Murray saw a more resilient team.

"We survived that second period and we got back on track," Murray said. "It was a gut check for us. We got that power-play goal early in the third and I thought we did a nice job closing it out.

"Last year, I wasn't confident we could get it done in those situations," Murray continued. "This year, I feel better about the way we've been able to play late in games with a lead."

These Senators did give their coach something to worry about in the final minute, allowing the Devils to cut the lead to one on a goal by Zach Parise with just 29.2 seconds left in regulation.

Murray answered that goal with an interesting decision. He sent his top line -- center Jason Spezza, left winger Dany Heatley and right winger Daniel Alfredsson -- out to nail down the game. And they did just that, not allowing the Devils to get another chance.

"He [Murray] has been doing that for a while now," said Heatley, who finished with a goal and two assists. "It's nice to see that he has the confidence to use us in that situation."

Murray's confidence in his troops seems to be growing with every game. He has been very pleased with their play. And he's been very happy with the work of his goalie, too.

"When things got rocky, Ray gave us a chance," Murray said. "He really settled in and played."

Emery, who remembers last year's meltdown against the Sabres all too well, was happy to get a different result this time.

"It was a similar game," said Emery, comparing last year's second-round opener to this year's. "This time, we finished them off.

"Maybe it's a sign of things to come," he said.

Maybe it is.

Game notes
Devils captain Patrik Elias was scratched with the flu. The club hopes the extra rest will help him get ready for Game 2 on Saturday. Elias missed the first half of the 2005-06 season with a bout of hepatitis, which can damage an individual's immune system. Thus, the Devils have been very careful in dealing with Elias. ... Erik Rasmussen took Elias' place on the club's first line with center Scott Gomez and right winger Brian Gionta. ... Rookie right winger David Clarkson took Elias' spot in the lineup. It was Clarkson's first playoff game. He received just 7:22 minutes of ice time and was whistled for a questionable goaltender interference penalty in the third period. ... Devils mistakes contributed to three of the Senators' four first-period goals. Those three goals -- scored by Corvo, Dean McAmmond and Heatley -- were unassisted.

E.J. Hradek covers hockey for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at Also, click here to send E.J. a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

E.J. Hradek

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
E.J. Hradek is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, joining the staff prior to its launch in 1998. He began covering hockey as a writer/editor for Hockey Illustrated in 1989.