It's not over

By now I’m certain you’ve seen the daunting statistics. The Ottawa Senators, in their modern history, have yet to come back from a 2-0 series deficit in four tries. The Buffalo Sabres, meanwhile, are 11-1 when up two games.

Pay these stats no mind. Yeah, they make for nice newspaper fodder, but this is a different year. I’ve never put much stock into statistics that deal with stuff from five years ago because so much has changed on both sides.

The Ottawa Senator can win both games in Buffalo, which at this point has to be the objective.

They can be better.

That has to be remembered. This is a team that has buried all those chances they missed in game 2 and who didn’t make the mistakes that defined game 1.

We’ve said it before, especially after the game 2 loss to Tampa Bay, but the first step is the best players, the guys who’ve carried the load all season long, have to take this team on their shoulders.

Zdeno Chara has to be so much friggin better its not even funny. He needs to be an A and right now he’s a D. A B game from him, though much better than what we’ve gotten so far in this series, is not enough. This player gets praised heaped on him like he’s the second coming of Doug Harvey, and he’ll be paid as such this offseason, but when the chips have been down, he’s shit the bed. In the 2004 playoff loss to Toronto, he wasn’t a factor, and he certainly has not been thus far.

Daniel Alfredsson has to take his game to a new level. I remain divergent to the Don Cherry’s of the world who say he’s not trying, but something is not working, and this isn’t the first time this has happened in the playoffs. He’s been accused of trying to do too much before and once again that looks to be the case. Alfredsson’s holding onto the puck much longer than he should and when carrying it is making retarded decisions.

Ray Emery has to be better. Yes, we can’t fault him for the loss, but at some point he has to make the big saves he did in the Tampa Bay series. The opportunity in game 2 was the breakaway goal scored by Hecht. That was the difference maker, and he could not come up with it. He has to, because that’s what great goalies are made of.

Jason Spezza has to be smarter. He made a lot of good plays with the puck but they were all overshadowed by that boneheaded drop pass that nearly went the other way for a goal. Don’t be so cute with the puck. Highlight reel goals mean as much as a cheap one. Fire the puck and make the passes that are there instead of trying to force them through.

Bryan Murray has to stop being stupid. This nonsense with the lines has got to stop. Beyond simply putting Alfredsson on the first line, Murray needs to adjust in other areas. Chris Neil was probably Ottawa’s best player in the first period. Every time he was on the ice he made something happen, whether it be a big hit or drawing a penalty. Yet where was he in the second period, when the game was ultimately decided? As much blood as there will be on John Muckler’s hands if this season ends this week, Murray will justifiably be held responsible.

The powerplay has to be better. Try new things. It’s no coincedence the most productive PPs occurred when someone like Chris Neil or Patrick Eaves were parked in front of the net. Yet Murray did not go back to this, instead putting all the big guns on the ice. This is not working. They’ve lost two games now and the struggling powerplay has been a big reason why. What has to happen for Murray to question his decisions? If not Neil or Eaves then someone. Mike Fisher, Zdeno Chara. This approach of working along the perimeter and waiting for the perfect shot before trying to fire it from the point has proven unsuccessful.

Now let’s talk about what they did well.

The role players all had good games. They did their jobs. Perhaps you’d like more finish from Patrick Eaves but he was certainly creating his share of chances. Antoine Vermette was solid. Vaclav Varada did what he was supposed to. Chris Kelly had another strong game. Brian Pothier was good on the blueline. Unfortunately, these aren’t the guys who the team depends on, but at least someone’s rolling.

Physically, Ottawa punished Buffalo, and the word is the Sabres are a hurting bunch. This has to continue, but be smart about it. Don’t run around looking for hits that aren’t there, but if you have the opportunity to finish a check, do so. This goes for the entire team, including teri cloth players like Spezza and Martin Havlat. This has to be a team attack.

Put simply, the team has to get back to playing Ottawa Senators hockey. We haven’t seen it with any regularity in this series.

What’s strange is that as much as we’re panicking, Sabres fans, when not rightfully rubbing the wins in our faces in as nice a way possible, are quietly expressing concern of their own. They have not played well this series either. They got the wins, and good for them for that, but this is not the same Buffalo Sabres that they saw down the stretch either.

Buffalo will want to elevate their game and now that they’re up 0-2 a fanbase who might have been content with just a second round appearance now have visions of Stanley dancing in their head. Suddenly, there is a bit of pressure on a team who had none of it all year because of such low expectations all around.

Can Buffalo finish the job is a legitimate question. Doing it in the first round against an overmatched Philadelphia club is one thing. Against Ottawa is another.

Without Tim Connolly and with a banged up Daniel Briere (who needs to be hit at every turn), the Sabres are undermanned and might just be ripe for the picking, assuming Ottawa doesn't hand them golden chances and is able to bury some of their own.

Another factor that could end up being in Ottawa's favor, as absurd as this may sound to those who don't live in a Canadian city and thus can't comprehend the pressure cooker that is the NHL playoffs in these places, is the change of scenary. The move to Buffalo, a building that has been very kind to the Senators in recent history, could be a positive.

They're away from the media frenzy that Ottawa has become. Despite what players say about not hearing what's said on local radio or written in columns, I have to believe enough of it trickles down to them that it becomes an annoyance. I'm sure they're as sick of hearing about the failures of years past as we are with writing about them.

The back-to-back games issue, something that I found to be highly absurd initially, might also turn out to be good. If Ottawa can win Wednesday night, the momentum shifts back just a bit, and they have the opportunity to strike again very quickly.

The Carolina-Montreal series showed us that coming back from this very hole can be done. But it requires big games from big players. The clock hasn’t quite struck 12 yet but for the 2006 Ottawa Senators it’s a little past 11:30. It’s now or never.