An offensive thought

DON BRENNAN -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 3:47 PM ET


 TORONTO -- Some Easter weekend leftovers from the Battle of Ontario to chew on along with that toasted turkey sandwich and plate of reheated mashed potatoes ...

 - When two playoff combatants are as closely matched as the Senators and Maple Leafs, it only figures a bounce will decide the eventual series winner. A bounce, or a decision.

 There's no doubt Jacques Martin will receive an inspiring effort from Jason Spezza when he reinserts his top scoring centre into the lineup tonight, which surely to God he must realize he has to do. And as he is an especially gifted player with a proven flair for the dramatic, the hunch here is Spezza will immediately make his mark on the series by either scoring or setting up a goal or two in Game 3. Not even Eddie Belfour will be able to prevent him from releasing some of the anger he has for Martin, in the best way he knows how.

 But before lauding Martin as a genius who directed his team to a split of the two games in Toronto and now has a fired up Spezza to throw at the Leafs in the nation's capital, consider the possibility that the "coach's decision" cost the Senators the chance of owning a 2-0 lead in the series. And that, ultimately, could cost the Senators their chance to advance.

 No one player was responsible for Ottawa winning the first game. But it's quite conceivable Spezza could have made a difference in the second. The Senators were shut out and he's a scorer. Simple math.

 Of course, the suggestion made in this space yesterday -- that Spezza should replace either Radek Bonk or Bryan Smolinski -- was a radical one and likely scoffed at by the coaching staff. They are two of Ottawa's highest paid and most experienced players. They both think defence before Spezza does. They're both more responsible and trustworthy.

 HANDS OF STONE

 And they both play with the same amount of desire and intensity that has been so symbolic of past Senators playoff failures. And when it comes to scoring goals, they both had hands of granite Saturday night.

 Would Spezza have scored on either or both of the two incredible, open-side chances presented to Bonk, who didn't manage a single shot on goal in 17:41 of ice time that included 7:40 on the power play? Would he have solved Eddie The Eagle playing in place of Smolinski, who was unable to make good with the opportunities afforded him during a couple of high-octane shifts on a line with Martin Havlat and Peter Schaefer? Wouldn't you rather live or die with the magic Spezza and Havlat have shown they can create together?

 Yes, yes and yes.

 Martin will "decide" to put Spezza in the lineup tonight, but it's almost guaranteed he'll take the easy way out and do so at the expense of rookie Antoine Vermette, a hardworking winger who deserves to play as well. What he should do is send an attention-getting message by sitting Smolinski or Bonk, one that would emphasize to all Senators that each and every one of them is replaceable should they not perform to expectations.

 At least Martin will get Spezza in the lineup. He just better hope he's not a game or two too late in doing it.

 - What you probably would have heard in Game 2 if all players wore mikes. "You wanna know there's more of that coming." -- Leafs forward Tom Fitzgerald, who tapped Hossa on the back of the leg with his stick as the Senators star skated woozily to the bench after getting drilled by Tie Domi.

 "You're a good kid and I know you're not afraid of anybody, but don't do anything that will make me permanently disfigure you." -- Domi, who stood face to face with Mike Fisher during a game-ending melee.

 "Phew." -- The sigh of relief from every one of the Leafs skilled guys who anticipated getting nailed the way Hossa was by Domi, only to find the Senators would not stick up for their top players in such message-sending fashion.

 - It's been 10 months and 20 days since the Corel Centre rocked the way only a Senators playoff game makes it rock, and past experience tells us it will be worth the price of admission alone just to feel the chills created by the fans when the home side steps on the ice for the first time tonight. The crowd should give the Senators a lift in the early going, much the way those at the ACC helped charge the Leafs early in Game 2.

 'A LOT OF EMOTION'

 "They came out with a lot of emotion," Senators D Brian Pothier said afterwards. "The first 10 minutes, they were working really hard. After that, I thought they slowed down."

 Indeed, the Leafs held an 8-3 advantage in the shots on goal department midway through the opening period, and that includes their inability to get a single puck on Patrick Lalime during the first of two consecutive Anton Volchenkov penalties. That means the Senators outshot them 28-18 the final 50 minutes.

 - False -- Daniel Alfredsson was not trying to make room in the lineup for Jason Spezza when he wired a slapshot at Bonk, who was standing about five feet away, from just inside the Ottawa blue line as the horn sounded to end the first period. No, he was trying to get one last shot at Belfour.

 True -- The "Ottawa Sucks" chants at the ACC as the game ended were louder than those from across the country when the GST was introduced.


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