After such an invigorating and seemingly life-breathing double OT victory in game three, the Sens fell flat on their backs by a staggering score of 7-3 after the whirling dervish of the Pens multi-tornado offense swept through Scotiabank Place in game four.
What makes this game all the more tougher to swallow is the fact that Ottawa had the momentum, excelled within it, and then stumbled into the second period as almost a completely different team, and lost it.
In fact, just 2:29 into the game, and after a controversial penalty against the Sens (surprise, surprise), Milan Michalek (who has struggled for the entirety of the playoffs) finally dented the upper twine on a beautiful breakaway, short-handed goal from a stick-tape pass by Alfie.
After leading the game by a mark of 2-1 at the end of the first, the red-and-black-heart-attack couldn’t keep pace with the Pens, and they let a few mistakes blow the game wide open (including a 2-on-0 goal by Kunitz and a blown coverage by Gonchar on Iginla).
Something happened to the psyche of this mighty underdog last night in their own arena, and it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it was.
Oh yeah – that AND the fact that they are playing the best team in the NHL, who, for the first time in the series, actually looked like their high-octane, net-filling selves again.
Even Daniel Alfredsson – the fearless captain who put them back in this series in game three – was gassed, bewildered and seemingly stunned after a reporter asked him if he thought the Sens could battle back in this series.
Alfie’s response? “Probably not”.
An odd thing to say for a captain? Sure. But I’m not here to lay blame to the man who is perhaps the sole reason why the Sens won game three. Anyone who knows anything about Swedish hockey players can pinpoint some of their classic mannerisms: stoic, to the point and often painfully blunt.
Alfie had just had his (and his team’s) ass handed to him after losing by four goals, and while trying to catch his breath in the locker room, and fielding media question after media question, he was just trying to be honest and not have his head in the clouds. Basically, if you understand this team, you’ll know that that statement was Alfie’s way of saying “I think we can still do it, but it’s gonna be really tough” – He didn’t say “No – we are done.” He said “Probably not”. There’s probability, there. Maybe not a ton – but there is some.
It’s interesting how the headline-hungry NHL media is making Alfie’s statement out to be as controversial as Sergio Garcia’s quip about having Tiger Woods over to his house for fried chicken.
Listen – if you’ve given up on this team, that’s fine. Head for the golf course, and maybe I’ll see you in a week or two. They were trounced last night and they could very well get trounced again on Friday. That’s the nature of hockey, and the nature of an underdog playing against the best offense in the league.
But if you have studied this team’s season (and past few seasons) as closely as I have, you know that this is a team that thrives when the deck is stacked against them. This is a team that consistently forced overtime games, and won battles all season long that they shouldn’t have won. This is a team that looked weak on the stats sheet, but who consistently fought their way into the W column. This is a team who, despite injuries to their four best players (that’s right – FOUR), showed that they can compete and even beat the big market teams.
There is no doubt in my mind that the Sens can battle back in this series. Every small ship (and even the mightiest and strongest little ship that has stayed afloat on such a long journey) hits a title wave from time to time – it’s the nature of the angry sea of hockey.
It’s not going to be a cake walk, but here are a few things that can help the Kanata Kids in game 5.
1. GET MAD!
Last night, the Sens seemed to almost be letting the Pens have their way with them, at times. Neil was barely hitting anybody, and Cowen looked like a deer in a field of cheetahs. The Sens have to rise to the occasion and they have to get aggressive. I love Sidney Crosby (and so does CBC, evidently), but if he gets all shovey again like he did last night against Alfie, as PJ Stock said ‘If I were Alfie, I’d hit him the jaw’. So what if he’s the best player in the league – he shouldn’t be anywhere close to those skirmishes near the net. Get in his face. Get in Malkin’s face. Nail Brooks Orpik and Matt Cooke in the first 5 minutes. Let them know that if they win, it’s not going to be easy and they’re going to take some pain away with them.
2. HIT ‘EM HARD AND CATCH ‘EM OFF THEIR GUARD
In game three, the Sens came out hitting. Last night, there was nary a body, hip or butt-check to be found. Cowen, Neil, Smith, Gonchar, Methot, Greening (and even Alfie, Spezza and Turris) need to bang bodies. They need to let the Pens know that they are alive and if they do score a goal, they are going to pay for it. Right now, the Pens have little fear of the Sens physical game – but it’s there. It’s just a sleeping dog. Maybe Maclean’s post-game words of “We’re going to Pittsburgh and we’re coming to play” meant just that. They Sens need to transform into the 1990′s New Jersey Devils – make everyone the league despise you, but win at all costs.
3. DON’T TRY TO BEAT THE PENS AT THEIR OWN GAME
There was too much desire for the Sens to skate fast and create offense against the Pens last night, instead of playing physical, crashing the net and getting inside heads. Perhaps a lack of faith in Vokoun fueled them to try this style of play (which almost worked, as Spezza and Pageau both had him beat and hit posts, and those goals would have given them 5 goals and maybe changed the momentum). Vokoun is shaky and everyone (except Glenn Healey who would hand the vezina to Vokoun personally) knows this. Don’t try and finesse the Penguins because chances are, they have a lightspeed skater waiting on the wings – because after that fancy, missed shot gets stolen or rebounded, it most likely gets sent for an outlet, breakaway pass. The only team that can play like the Penguins IS the Penguins.
4. IMPLEMENT THE TRAP
The neutral zone trap (as much as I despise it and hate to watch it) is a system that works. The Sens need to put five across, pin the boards and don’t let the Pens into the zone. Sure – maybe the Pens will figure out a way around it at some point, but it will still rattle the feathers of guys like Malkin and Crosby. Grinders like Condra, Greening and Smith aren’t fancy, finesse players – they do best when they have a firm system in place (i.e. the trap). Check, check and back-check – then look for a chance. If the Sens are going to beat the Pens, it’s not going to be an 8-7 victory – it will be a 2-1 or 1-0 victory.
5. STAY PESKY
Even in games one and two (which had their dismal points), the Sens played like a team of madmen. In fact, both of those games were tied 1-1 at different points. Down three games to one, the Sens can’t think about winning three more – they have to see this as one game. Sure – it’s life or death, but this game represents their season; backs against the wall and still winning. They need to keep the score low, and play their game. They need to be like swarming bees on top of those honey-rebounds. If anyone in the NHL can beat the Penguins, I firmly believe that the Sens are one of those teams.