“The confidence level of our team is different today and I think we’ll play accordingly,” coach Bryan Murray said Sunday, a day after the Senators staved off disaster with a 5-3 victory over the Anaheim Ducks in Game 3 of the final.
The Ducks still lead the best-of-seven series 2-1 and can push the Senators to the brink with a win in Game 4 on Monday night at Scotiabank Place.
But Anaheim will have to do it without star defenceman Chris Pronger, who was suspended one game for a vicious forearm to the head of Ottawa centre Dean McAmmond in the third period on Saturday night.
McAmmond, a key penalty killer and fourth-line centre, said he feels “headachy” and “not quite right,” and a decision isn’t expected until Monday afternoon whether he can play.
Anaheim winger Chris Kunitz, who returned Saturday after missing seven games with a broken finger, left the game with what coach Randy Carlyle called an “abdominal bruise,” but he is expected to play Monday.
Pronger’s suspension came just as the Senators were finding holes in an Anaheim defence that was a wall in a pair of decisive Ducks victories at home to start the series.
Ottawa’s forwards were getting the puck into the Anaheim zone for a change, and winning their share of battles for the puck.
And while their top line of Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson was held to one disputed power-play goal, the Senators got goals from a variety of lines for the first time in weeks.
“We put pucks in better areas, where we could retrieve it,” said centre Mike Fisher, a standout in Game 3. “Their defence can really move, so we have to make it tough on them, responding physically. We did a great job in that area.”
Fisher, McAmmond, checking-line winger Chris Neil and defenceman Anton Volchenkov also scored in the game.
The Ducks take heart in their victory in Game 4 of the Western Conference final, when Pronger was suspended for smashing Detroit’s Tomas Holmstrom’s head into the glass.
Pronger plays more than 30 minutes per game, but his teammates rallied without him. The Ducks didn’t lose another game until Game 3 against Ottawa.
“The good thing is it’s only one game and you just have to ask everyone else to step up,” said Anaheim defenceman Sean O’Donnell. “I don’t think any one guy can take Chris Pronger’s place, but you give a couple of extra minutes to each guy on defence and we’ll be OK.
“Last time we were at home, so we had the match-ups we wanted and it will be a little more difficult on the road.”
If McAmmond can’t play, Patrick Eaves is likely to step in for Ottawa, although it may spark some line juggling. Fisher’s linemates Chris Kelly and Antoine Vermette can both fill in at centre.
The lesser lines gained some confidence in Game 3, even if the Spezza trio that was unstoppable in three previous playoff rounds continued to struggle against tight checking from Anaheim’s top checking line of Samuel Pahlsson, Rob Niedermayer and Travis Moen.
Spezza has gone two games without a point for the first time since early in the regular season in October. Heatley is without a point in the series.
But Alfredsson got his skate on a deflected puck for a goal that stood up to video review to tie the game on Saturday, just before McAmmond got the game-winner on a pass that went in off Pronger – two breaks that made the difference.
Murray said his second to fourth lines may have become complacent on attack with the top line filling the net game after game.
Kelly agreed with his coach.
“Before, people thought we were a one-line team and maybe for the most part we were because that line was generating all those offensive chances,” he said. “But when you’ve got all lines scoring, they’ve got to focus on each line, just like we had to do in the first two games.”
The extra pressure on the defence may also have touched off Anaheim’s chief weakness – a lack of discipline. They are the most penalized team in the playoffs and gave up seven power plays in Game 3, including four in the third period.
Pronger’s hit on McAmmond wasn’t even one of them, somehow having gone undetected by referees Paul Devorski and Dan O’Halloran.
Now Murray’s hoping his top line, which is also his first power-play unit, can get going to keep the pressure on the Ducks.
“Will they play better? I hope so,” he said. “We think they were better through the first part of the playoffs.
“Mind you, they are playing against different people, different size, and that has to be a factor. But as they step up a bit and the other guys continue to play hard, we have a good chance to get back in this series.”
If not, the Ducks will have a chance to clinch their first Stanley Cup in Game 5 on Wednesday night back in Anaheim, with Pronger back in the lineup.