Senators' top guns must elevate game

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 3:46 PM ET


 There are certain indisputable truths about the Stanley Cup playoffs.

 1. When your locker in the visitors' dressing room is a WWE prop (i.e. a folding chair), things aren't going the way you'd like. That's what Senators centre Jason Spezza, a healthy scratch for Games 1 and 2, was using to get dressed and undressed at the Air Canada Centre. The Senators' fourth-leading scorer didn't even have his own stall.

 2. Chicken wings always seem like a good idea at 1 a.m. at the Up Front bar on Front St. in Hogtown. They never seem like such a good idea when you get up a few hours later to drive back to Ottawa.

 3. It is always incumbent upon the team that has lost a game to make changes.

 Which brings us to the Senators and Game 3 of their deadlocked Eastern Conference quarter-final against the Toronto Maple Leafs which continues tonight at the Corel Centre.

 Spezza, decisions you might regret and changes.

 Senators coach Jacques Martin is faced with all three for tonight's game.

 The Leafs lost Game 1 and made changes for Game 2, inserting winger Darcy Tucker and defenceman Ken Klee for their 2-0 win at the ACC Saturday night.

 Tucker, who was left with two black eyes from an elbow to the face by Senators defenceman Brian Pothier, wasn't the reason the Leafs won the game. But just the fact he was added to the lineup gave a reason for hope. After losing a game the way the Leafs did in Game 1 or the Senators did in Game 2, you can't go with the status quo.

 Tucker was better than Mikael Renberg was in Game 1.

 Klee was better than Aki Berg was in Game 1.

 Leafs coach Pat Quinn now looks like a candidate for Mensa (never mind Leafs goaltender Ed Belfour was way better than he was in Game 1 and that's the biggest reason the Leafs won.)

 MAKE A MOVE

 Perception at this time of year can go a ways towards changing reality.

 Coaches at this time of year have to at least give the appearance of doing something.

 You get shut out with your fourth-leading scorer sitting on a folding chair and, right or wrong, it looks like a bad decision with the gift of hindsight (never mind that the same lineup won Game 1; that's old news now.)

 Did Spezza deserve to be sat out in Game 1? You could make the case. He struggled for the last quarter of the season, enough to argue that he was battling with a few guys to be the club's 13th forward.

 For some fans and media, however, there's a bit of a blind spot when it comes to Spezza. They tend to forget that while he is an immensely talented young man, he is still learning how to compete at the NHL level.

 Leaving Spezza out of the lineup the last two games caused a stir. Spezza was obviously angered by the decision, but, for the most part, held his tongue. It is that passion and pride that is going to make him a very good and, possibly, a great NHL player.

 Inserting Spezza is the obvious change (at whose expense is the tougher question. Antoine Vermette is the likely, easy choice) and the one change many will no doubt be focusing on in the hours leading up to the game tonight.

 CHANGING ROLES

 But the Senators need to make other changes. In Game 2, the two teams flipped roles. This time it was the Senators who handed over a 5-on-3 power-play advantage during which a key goal was scored. Discipline must be restored.

 Some of the Leafs' key players elevated their games from Game 1. Belfour, Senators killer Gary Roberts and captain Mats Sundin all made significant contributions after poor or mediocre efforts in Game 1.

 The only Senator who raised his game from Game 1 to Game 2, you could argue, was goaltender Patrick Lalime.

 The list of Senators whose play declined in Game 2 was a long one. Marian Hossa, the star of Game 1 for Ottawa, was pretty much invisible after that big hit from Tie Domi. Captain Daniel Alfredsson has to score on that chance in which he shot the puck into Belfour's glove.

 Radek Bonk, Bryan Smolinski, Peter Bondra ... the Senators need more from those guys if they are going to beat the Leafs.

 If the Senators are to win Game 3 tonight, a lot has to change, a lot more than just having a 20-year-old kid with three playoff games experience in the lineup.


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