Monday, April 14, 2008

Sixty Minutes left to save a season

It’s a familiar path that fans of the Ottawa Senators are walking these days, a trail they thought they had left behind for good last year when the Sens made their run to the Stanley Cup finals.

Yet, down three games to the faster, more intense Pittsburgh Penguins, this years edition of the Senators is looking more and more like the squad the frequently would bow out in a first round series with little in the way of hostile fire.

All the ingredients were in place for a turn around game on Monday, a noisy crowd, a returning Captain and a team more than aware that in game three nothing less than a full effort was required.

Or as the Centurion (perhaps the cheesiest mascot yet in the NHL) that opened the game at Scotiabank Place put it, defeat is not an option, or words to that effect. The Centurion can put away his sword it would seem; in this battle the invading forces have the upper hand and the sword at the throat.

Ottawa had more than enough chances in a fast paced first period to bury the Penguins away for the night, but were held off the scoreboard by Marc Andre Fleury, who refused to yield an early goal to provide Ottawa with insurmountable momentum.

The Senators played with purpose (as should have been expected) had many opportunities and should probably have been rewarded for their efforts. In particular, the appearance of Daniel Alfreddson back from injury seemed to be a catalyst for the team and the crowd, it had all the potential for one of those historic moments for a franchise that still has many ghosts.

Spurred on by their goaltender, the Penguins bided their time, not getting too rattled as the Senators came across the blue line again and again in the first, the first twenty minutes of play were perhaps the best twenty minutes of hockey that Ottawa has put together since January.

The second period was a draw of sorts as the two teams traded opportunities and settled nothing after forty minutes; the third was a disaster where Pittsburgh regained control of the play, control of the game and more than likely control of the series.

Sidney Crosby, held silent for two games in Pittsburgh, reintroduced himself to hockey fans in the third period, taking charge of the moment for his team with a dispiriting goal twelve seconds in the final period, a little over a minute later Jordan Staal finished off the night with another marker, while former Senator Marian Hossa pounded the lid shut for the night midway through the third.

The 4 to 1 victory, perhaps not indicative of the play of the Senators on the night, but the three goal bulge certainly providing the exclamation point on the game and most likely the series.

There’s brave talk of it’s never over til it’s over and of moral victories from their play on Monday, but the truth is a third loss in a best of four series provides for a long road back, one which many will not give this current group of Senators much hope to follow.

As things would turn out, that early burst of energy may have been the last gasps of a team that now sees a light at the end of the tunnel, not the good light, but that bright light, that portends an end that Ottawa fans would have thought unthinkable in September

Globe and Mail-- Ottawa on the Ropes
Ottawa Citizen-- Almost Done
Ottawa Citizen-- Alfredsson not enough
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette-- Penguin tighten their grip on series
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette-- Backs against the wall
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette-- Matured Fleury is the key
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review-- Crosby ruins Senators’ hopes
. Stats Pack

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