Young guns misfiring

DON BRENNAN -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 11:09 AM ET

There's a reason the Senators-Sabres series lid-lifter was one of the very best, worst playoff games ever.

Same reason many of the participants weren't legally old enough to celebrate the last turn of the century with a beer.

"You saw youthful goaltenders, youthful defencemen and youthful mistakes," Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said upon reflection of a 7-6 win from the only city he's been in the past 48 hours that actually has a pro football club. "You also saw tremendous energy from both teams that comes with that youth."

Interestingly, the average age of both the Senators and Sabres is 27.2. But that's including the injured Dominik "Where's Waldo" Hasek (41) and the soon-to-be 38-year-old Buffalo blueliner Teppo "Hello" Numminen.

Of the 19 players to dress for the Sabres, eight were born in the 1980s. Of the 19 wearing Ottawa red, 11 were born in the 1980s.

Coincidentally or not, playing their worst games in weeks were 23-year-old Ray Emery and 20-year-old Andrej Meszaros.

Responsible for the giveaway that cost Ottawa the game was 24-year-old defenceman Anton Volchenkov.

"He took that very hard (Friday night)," coach Bryan Murray said. "It's easy to point the fingers at a variety of people, but he takes it hard. So we have some discussions. We're going to do a few things with our defence separately, and just get them ready to play again."

Murray had Volchenkov on the ice to start the overtime because Meszaros, the guy who usually would be out there alongside Wade Redden, was having a rough night.

He didn't use the Zdeno Chara-Chris Phillips combination on the first shift of OT because the teams each had a player in the box and he wanted Redden, a good puck mover, on for the 4-on-4 so he could start the attack for Mike Fisher and Daniel Alfredsson.

Even though it was Volchenkov who gave the puck away on Chris Drury's winner at the 18-second mark, Murray spread the blame.

"He's not one of the skill guys on our team ... but they throw the puck back to him and everybody buzzes off," said Murray. "Unfortunately, he lost the puck. I don't know if it was wet ice at the time or he looked up and lost the handle on it, but that's part of hockey as well.

"He's a guy that, confidence wise, we have to work on a little bit, but I think Mez will be fine and I think Anton will come back and be okay, too."

BEATEN BY ROY

Meszaros was beaten by Derek Roy like a rented mule on the tone-setting first Sabres goal, and he was also a victim when Roy scored a crippler 30 seconds from the end of the second period.

It was his poor judgment with Ottawa holding a one-goal lead with less than two minutes to go that led to the 5-5 equalizer, again by Roy.

"I just wanted to try and hold the blue line there and it bounced, and I hit the guy there and they went on a 2-on-1 and scored," Meszaros said yesterday. "It was just one of those nights and I have to make sure it never happens again."

Meszaros, who's been a tremendous rookie, played all 82 regular-season games and stood particularly tall when the team ran into a rash of injuries on the blue line. But more often than not these days, he is looking like someone who was just a teenager in October.

"I don't feel tired. I feel pretty good," he said. "It's playoff time, this is the most important time of the whole season and I have to play good. I can't do those mistakes. The pressure is kind of high ... the regular season is different than now. You can lose games now that you have to work for ... it's hard. That's why the series is seven games. You can't win every game, but you have to try and win every game.

"It's different, you know, especially in the first game of the series," he added. "You didn't play good, and it's kind of frustrating. I'm disappointed in the way I played (Friday night). I have to stay focused, practise hard and be the guy that I was last time I played my game, and don't do the mistakes like I did."

Murray, meanwhile, won't hesitate to trust his young players in Game 2 tomorrow night.

Not that he has much of a choice.

"We've got a good core," he said. "We've got a heck of a core. Just (Friday) night was a tough night."

ICE CHIPS: Senators D Brian Pothier is expected to be back from an undisclosed injury for Game 2 ... Chris Kelly became the second Senator forward to get hit in the eye with a puck shot by a teammate in these playoffs when he was nailed by Chris Neil in the third period. Kelly has swelling but, like Fisher before him, it's believed he'll wear a face shield and play tomorrow ... On Friday, Senators W Martin Havlat became the first player to score in his team's first six playoff games since the Sabres' Pat LaFontaine turned the trick in 1992.

DON.BRENNAN@OTT.SUNPUB.COM


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