Sens' big three up for big task
Alfredsson, Spezza and Heatley reunited for do-or-die Game 4
But as they sit on the brink of elimination in their Eastern Conference quarter-final series with the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Ottawa Senators will play their strongest, most natural of hands tonight in Game 4 at Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).
Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley – as lethal a combination as you’ll find in the National Hockey League – will be reunited tonight as the Senators begin the task of attempting to wipe out an imposing 3-0 series deficit.
While Senators head coach/general manager Bryan Murray only suggested he’d put the big three together “at times in the game,” it’s obvious he’s counting on his biggest guns to spark an offence that’s been limited to just four goals in three games.
“I’m counting on them to play well and just do what they’re capable of doing, and that’s be a force every shift they’re on the ice,” said Murray.
That piece of news clearly has Alfredsson – who made a stunning, premature return from knee and upper body injuries in Game 3 – all fired up.
“We know what we’ve done together and, hopefully, we can come up with a big effort tonight,” said the Senators captain. “I’m really excited that I get to play with them and we’ll create some offence, for sure.”
Alfredsson looked stronger during this morning’s pre-game skate and said “playing with Jason and Dany should definitely get me ready. I’ll be excited about it. I’ll be ready to go and should have a lot of jump.”
Spezza knows the line can – and will – have a lot to say about whether this series makes it to a Game 5 back in Pittsburgh on Saturday night.
“The only way we’re going to get out of this hole is by us playing real well together,” he said. “We should be able to generate some offence and we’ve got to stay on the plus side of things.
“In a big pressure game when the chips are down, we enjoy playing with each other. We’ve come up big in the past and we want to see if we can do it again.”
While Spezza and Heatley have been limited to a combined two assists in the series so far, there’s a much bigger picture to consider tonight.
“It’s going to be a long summer if we lose in the first round,” said Spezza. “If you lose, it’s a disappointment and that’s all you’ve got to worry about. If we don’t score a goal tonight but we win the hockey game, I can tell you I’ll be leaving the rink happy.”
The Senators were a loose group during their pre-game workout. Then again, only two teams in NHL history – the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs (vs. Detroit) and 1975 New York Islanders (vs. Pittsburgh) – have ever rallied from a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series. Most in the hockey world doubt this Senators team can be the third.
“The world’s against them and now maybe they’ll just go play,” said Murray. “Nobody expects anything of us. I think our guys will play accordingly. I think we’ll play and respond in a real positive way.”
Or, as forward Martin Lapointe put it, “we’re down 3-0 now. Why play uptight? We’ve got nothing to lose out there.”
“Let’s just go out there and have fun. We’ve been playing this game since we were five years old. It’s just a big challenge and guys have to rise up to it.”
The keys to victory haven’t changed: A full 60-minute effort, continued solid goaltending from Martin Gerber and, perhaps most of all, an end to the all-too-lengthy parade of Senators to the penalty box.
“We’ve got to stay out of the box,” said Alfredsson. “It takes away the momentum for us. I thought we did a good job killing (penalties) the last game but it takes its toll and kills momentum.
“Hopefully, we can play with the puck most of the time and make them draw penalties.”
Bodycheck, the official playoff program of the Ottawa Senators, is now available on-line. Check it out right here.