Leclaire, Sens aim to extend season
Ottawa must earn win in Pittsburgh tonight to avoid elimination
|The spotlight will shine on Pascal Leclaire tonight as the Senators try to avoid elimination with a road win against the Penguins tonight (Photo by Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images).
With their season on the line, the Ottawa Senators are putting their fate in the hands of Pascal Leclaire.
The goaltender who finished Game 4 in relief of Brian Elliott has been giving the starting nod for tonight's fifth game of the Eastern Conference quarter-final at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200). The Stanley Cup champions have a 3-1 stranglehold on the best -of-seven series and can end it with a victory on home ice.
Elliott started the first four games against the Penguins but was pulled after surrendering four goals on 19 shots in Sunday's 7-4 loss at Scotiabank Place that pushed the Senators to the brink of elimination.
Leclaire is enthused about getting the chance to prevent that from happening in his first career National Hockey League playoff start.
"I'm excited," the native of Repentigny, Que., said after the Senators' pre-game skate earlier today. "I think it'll be fun, especially here. It's a loud building and I think it's a great challenge for our team. I'm definitely excited to be a part of it."
While Leclaire has only made half a dozen starts since suffering a concussion on Jan. 12, Senators coach Cory Clouston acknowledged earlier today he needed to make a goaltending change because "we feel that Brian has struggled" in this series. While Elliott has been solid at times, he's currently carrying a 4.14 goals-against average and .853 save percentage.
"I don't see it that way," Leclaire said when asked if tonight's game represents a chance to atone for his up-and-down regular season. "My focus is just the game tonight and not what happened this year. Whatever is done is done. I don’t have any control over it. Tonight, I’m just going to go out and battle with my teammates and we’ll see what happens.
"I’ve been feeling good all week in practices and tried to work hard. I felt good this morning. I feel confident and relaxed. I’m just excited to play and it’ll be fun."
His teammates expect to see a goaltender primed and ready to go.
"You know (Leclaire) is going to come in excited and you know he’s going to be pretty fired up for a chance to do something special," centre Jason Spezza said. "Whenever a guy has motivation like that, you hope he can help the team out."
But that's also a two-way street, with Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson suggesting that Leclaire's teammates have to be better in front of their goaltender than on Tuesday, when a flood of turnovers helped opened the door for a 7-4 victory by the Penguins in Game 3.
"Our focus is to play better in front of our goalies," said Alfredsson, who skipped the pre-game skate but will play tonight. "We’ve got to manage the puck better, don’t turn it over, and don’t give them the easy rushes. If we do that, I think we’ll definitely give ourselves a good chance tonight.
Only 21 teams (out of 234) in National Hockey League history that have faced a 3-1 deficit have rebounded to win the series, a success rate of just 8.7 per cent. But it did happen a year ago, when the Washington Capitals rallied to get past the New York Rangers in the opening round. Now the Senators aim to defy the odds one more time.
"I don't think a lot of people are giving us a chance right now, so it’s a great challenge," said Leclaire. "We kind of like the underdog feeling right now. It (was) pretty relaxed this morning. We’re aware of the situation and we’ve got to make sure we come up with a big game tonight."
Added Clouston: "We know we have a tough road ahead of us, but we're looking at it as one game at a time. We've played well in this building before and we know there's a few areas we can improve on, so there's still confidence in (our) room. But we're not looking at anything other than tonight's game."
Around the boards
Veteran forward Shean Donovan is being inserted into the lineup tonight, with Jonathan Cheechoo coming out and joining Ryan Shannon on the sidelines as a healthy scratch ... Clouston said no consideration was given to starting Mike Brodeur in goal tonight. While the Binghamton callup played a key role in turning around the Senators season with a pair of wins in January, he battled injuries down the stretch and watched hot prospect Robin Lehner record two wins in the B-Sens' final three games. "(Brodeur) has had hip, back and groin problems in the last month and a half," said Clouston. "He's not even that healthy. I know he played well for us earlier, but he's not going to play tonight" ... A Senators victory tonight would bring the series back to Scotiabank Place for Game 6 on Saturday (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).