Monday, April 14, 2008

Senators Fight The Odds

Heading into tonight’s game 3 tilt in Ottawa, the odds are clearly stacked against the Senators beating the Penguins in this series.

The first stat that hits you - The Senators have never rallied back from a 2-0 deficit in a playoff series.

Perhaps even more daunting is the league wide stat - Only 37 out of 280 teams down 2-0 in a seven game series have come back to win.

If the Senators are planning on being that unlikely 38th team, they are going to have to overcome not just their own adversity, but (as people are prone to forget) they have to beat a very good Pittsburgh team that hasn’t even played their best game yet.

Despite racking up the points, Sidney Crosby has yet to have a breakout game like he is certainly capable of. His linemate, Marian Hossa is still struggling but it’s only a matter of time before he makes an impact.

What’s left for Ottawa to surprise the Penguins with?

Short of Daniel Alfredsson and Mike Fisher making miraculous recoveries, not much. It would help if Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley found some chemistry but alas, Bryan Murray has opted to split them up for tonight’s game (assuming Spezza can play through his mysterious leg injury).

According to the Ottawa Sun, Heatley will play with Antoine Vermette and Cory Stillman while Spezza will center a line with Nick Foligno and Alex Nikulin.

It’s not a bad move on Murray’s part and it might spark something in either player though I would put my money on Heatley’s line being more successful. Spezza with two rookies does not exactly inspire confidence.

Nikulin, a recent call up from the eliminated Bingo Sens, has the ability to produce – but in the NHL playoffs? I don’t expect much help from the young Russian who looked overwhelmed in the regular season.

Regardless, the Senators can build on a gutsy and gritty performance in game 2 and they must play the same style of game tonight. Of all the teams in the league, the Senators should know that skilled teams can sometimes be beaten by a more physical and determined squad. The Leafs did the same thing to the Senators four times in the past.

Martin Gerber will again have to be outstanding but he has got to find a way to keep the Pens to 2 goals or less. He has been stellar but he’s still let in four goals a game. He’s got to steal one tonight, no matter how tall a task. The best goalies find a way to do it and Gerber should be held up to the same standard no matter how popular he is with the fans and media right now. The fact remains that he let in a very stoppable wrap-around goal that decided the game because he was too far out of position.

It all comes down to results, not just for Gerber, but for the whole team as well. Moral victories don't win a playoff series.

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