Most of the team was on the ice for a short skate at Scotiabank Place on Thursday night after a day-long flight from Southern California, where they dropped a pair of one-goal decisions to the Anaheim Ducks in the opening two games of the Stanley Cup final.
The Ducks have a chance to take a 3-0 lock on the best-of-seven series with a win in Game 3 on Saturday night. Game 4 is on Monday night.
“It’ll be a benefit to us – our crowd has been great all year and the ice here will help us, too,” said Ottawa winger Dany Heatley.
The Senators felt the soft ice in Anaheim was a factor in slowing their high-powered attack in 3-2 and 1-0 losses to the Ducks, in which the top line of Heatley, Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson was particularly quiet.
“We don’t use it as an excuse, but we’re used to our ice and our fans and now we have to step it up and play our best on Saturday,” added Heatley.
The Senators know all about the statistic, that only one team – the 1971 Montreal Canadiens – has ever won a Cup final series after losing the opening two games on the road since the best-of-seven format was adopted.
But Ottawa was looking at the positive sides, from their greeting at the airport by still faithful fans to their firm belief that they can match the Ducks by winning their first two home games.
It won’t be easy.
The Ducks controlled even-strength play most of the time, and their checking line led by centre Samuel Pahlsson shut down the Spezza line that had been unstoppable through the first three rounds of playoffs.
To boot, the Ducks’ checkers scored the game-winning goals late in the third period of both games – in Game 1 by Travis Moen and Game 2 by Pahlsson – while playing against Ottawa’s big line.
“Our first job is to stop them from scoring and if we score, it’s a bonus,” said Pahlsson.
Another plus on home ice is the right to make the last line change, but Ottawa coach Bryan Murray cautioned against setting too much store on that.
He expects the Pahlsson line to come out within 10 seconds of any appearance by Spezza and Co., unless Spezza can win a faceoff in their zone and keep the puck in so the Ducks are unable to change on the fly.
That alone could move Murray to keep his top line together for another game, after experimenting with moving Alfredsson to the second centred by Mike Fisher at times in Game 2.
He said decisions on line combinations would be made on Friday.
No one struggled more in Anaheim than Spezza, a faceoff whiz in the first three rounds who lost 13 of 16 in Game 2. But Murray sees his young centre as one who may benefit most from playing at home.
“Jason had a tough night, but he’s the guy I believe will have a big turnaround on home ice,” said Murray. “I think he’ll win face-offs and play better.”
Spezza hopes he’s right.
“I know I have to be an impact guy and help us get out of this,” he said. “When you’re the centre on the top line, you have to make plays.
“For us to start a comeback, we have to have a good first period at home and hopefully, I can give us a bit of a jolt.”
Turnovers have been particularly harmful to Ottawa, especially by their top line and including the one that led to Pahlsson’s Game 2 game-winner.
The Senators also need to create chances at even strength. Their only two goals in the series were on power plays, although they have been shut out on 5-on-3 advantages in each game.
Their second and third lines have also been quiet, particularly second-line wingers Mike Comrie and Peter Schaefer.
Anaheim has outshot Ottawa 63-36 over two games and all that has kept the Senators close is the stellar goaltending of Ray Emery, who looks to have saved his best hockey for the final.
That also gives the Senators hope, because while they are down 0-2, they have had a chance to win both games even while being outplayed, had a lucky bounce or two gone their way.
And now they have home ice on their side.
“There’s a comfort level at home,” added Murray. “Players usually play better in their own building, with the support they get and the emotion in the building.”
But one key Duck is also looking forward to playing in Ottawa – goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere, a native of Montreal only a two-hour drive away.
“It feels like I’m at home right now,” said Giguere, who will have several family members and friends at the game.