Sabres in seven a four-gone conclusion

CHRIS STEVENSON

, Last Updated: 9:03 AM ET

BUFFALO -- Here on the radio, this series is over.

Sabres in 7.

One loss -- and not even one in which they were the inferior team -- and it seems all the good the Senators have accomplished this spring matters little.

Did I miss something?

The Sabres won Game 4 thanks to a nice break nine seconds into the game, needed a two-man advantage to finally score on the power play, got a soft goal for their third, and then hung on like a guy going over Niagara Falls in a barrel to win. Barely.

That leaves the Senators with a 3-1 lead going into today's Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final, which, apparently, is a foregone conclusion in the Sabres' favour.

The Sabres do have something going for them now.

They have a win, to start with, which is something they couldn't get in the first three games of the series.

Their goaltender, after being called out by Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff following Game 2, is playing some fine hockey.

They are the Presidents' Trophy winners and, at times, were the best team in the NHL during the regular season.

"I'm optimistic. We're not an eighth seed and not a team that snuck into the playoffs," said Ruff yesterday.

No, but it is a team that has been inconsistent through these playoffs with a power play that wouldn't scare your child's peewee team.

Neither a Sabres win nor a Senators loss is enough for anyone to start believing all the good stuff the Senators have accomplished through 14 games in the playoffs has suddenly evaporated.

Okay, so the Senators have a spotty past in the playoffs.

That still follows them around. Today is a chance to change that.

Somewhere inside the HSBC Arena today, they'll have the Prince of Wales Trophy in a box.

They'll have a few boxes of those "Ottawa Senators Eastern Conference Champions" hats with the tags hanging off the side.

They had to be schlepped down here after the Senators failed to close out the Sabres on Wednesday.

But you know how it is.

There will also be, in a figurative sense, a Pandora's box somewhere nearby, too, filled with the likes of Jeff Friesen and Joe Nieuwendyk and Derek Plante and Jason Pominville and Gary Roberts and everybody else who has spoiled one Senators spring or another.

PRINCE OF WALES TROPHY

Funny how it goes, huh?

If the Senators win in Game 5 this afternoon, two of those boxes will be opened: The Prince of Wales Trophy will be carried out to centre ice and the hats will be handed out.

The Senators will be on their way to their first Stanley Cup final and that other box, the one nobody in Ottawa wants opened, can be packed away for a while, thrown on top of that pile that also includes Alexei Yashin sweaters, Alexander Daigle's nurse's uniform, Tie Domi's bleeding forehead, Dave Allison's NHL coaching career and Pierre "The Ghost" Gauthier's trade for Christer Olsson.

If the Senators can't find a way to close the Sabres out today ... hello, Derek Plante.

It was Plante's overtime winner in Game 7 of the Senators' first trip to the playoffs in 1997 that provided the first post-season kick to the Firestones in their history.

Right here, too.

At least one scribbler -- surprisingly, I know, from Toronto -- has already pointed out the Senators' tendency for post-season immolation after they lost Game 4 in Ottawa.

The Sabres have been taking every chance to remind the Senators of their ghosts of playoffs past, though this group has little to do with those who suffered various humilations.

Sabres captain Daniel Briere has been talking about red flags going off.

"We're a team that went out and had a very good season. We won 10 games in a row. We've put together real good streaks and we have to put one together again," said Ruff, "and last game was a good start for us."

The Senators shouldn't be worried about that box of bad memories.

There's only one box they should be thinking about today and that's the one they can nail shut on the Sabres this afternoon.


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