The Senators can advance to the NHL championship for the first time in their modern history with a win over the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final (2 p.m. ET). Ottawa narrowly missed advancing Wednesday after falling 3-2 to the Sabres at home in Game 4.
“We don’t want to give them any edge,” centre Jason Spezza said as the Senators packed up their dressing room at Scotiabank Place on Friday. “We’ve got to treat this game as do or die for us.”
While it gets another chance to wrap up the series at HSBC Arena, Wednesday was first time in these playoffs the Senators have failed to show a killer instinct with the chance to finish off an opponent.
Prior to that defeat, which broke Ottawa’s six-game win streak, the Senators had eliminated both the Pittsburgh Penguins and New Jersey Devils at the first opportunity in the first and second rounds, respectively.
And in a city’s whose past playoff foundation is shaky, Wednesday’s loss already has some fans rattled and dragging out words like “choke” and “collapse” on local sports call-in shows.
While the Senators themselves don’t hold the same concerns, they also don’t want to give the Sabres any thoughts of extending the series further with goaltender Ryan Miller getting hot the past two games and two of the next three contests potentially in Buffalo.
“Yeah, it’s not do or die for us, plainly speaking, but it’s a deal where we want to put them out, period, and tomorrow’s our opportunity,” veteran centre Dean McAmmond said. “Whether it was Game 7 or Game 5, it’s no difference to us. It’s just a matter of beating them tomorrow and that’s it.”
But Sabres coach Lindy Ruff has been playfully reminding the media this week that with the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs and 1975 New York Islanders being the only teams to rally from 3-0 deficits to win a series, Buffalo was due for “something great” and he was at it again Friday.
“Like I said, every 32½ years or 33 years, something great happens,” he told reporters in Buffalo. “So something is going to have to start giving. It will have to start tomorrow.”
In the past two games, Miller has been arguably the best player on either team and if it wasn’t for a bad bounce off the end boards and Miller’s glove that led to Daniel Alfredsson’s tap-in deciding goal in Ottawa’s 1-0 victory in Game 3, the Senators might be feeling some heat.
Particularly on offence where, although 16 different Senators have a goal in these playoffs which is more goal scorers than any other team, there are signs things are already tightening up.
The top line of Spezza, Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson was shut out for the first time in the playoffs Wednesday and Heatley has gone goalless in the past five. Ottawa’s power play, the best of the four teams remaining, has gone 0-for-12 in the past two games.
On the whole, the Senators’ lineup didn’t appear to have as much jump Wednesday as it had previously in the playoffs.
In a playoff run in which the Senators have wiped away so many doubts surrounding the team, ending Buffalo’s season Saturday will go a long way toward snuffing out any potential ones that are certain to arise with a second Sabres’ triumph.
“We don’t want to give them any life by any means,” centre Mike Fisher said. “We can’t turn the puck over and we’ve got to continue to get a little bit better defensively. We didn’t move our feet as well in Game 4. But we got a few days off; we think we’ll be well-rested and ready to rock.”