Sens can head off disaster

DON BRENNAN -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:03 AM ET

It's a tight rope the Senators were going to have to walk sooner or later. You just expected it would be later.

One misstep now and they're all but dead. One more slip and they're on life support with a fierce electrical storm blowing in.

One more loss to the Sabres, they're down 3-0 in the Eastern Conference best-of-seven semi-final series and left praying to join the 1975 New York Islanders and the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs as the only teams to ever emerge from such a large playoff hole.

When the Senators line up at HSBC Arena to face the Fencing Swords of Buffalo this evening, it will be for the defining moment of their great season and -- depending on whether you buy into the this-year-or-never theory -- the biggest game in their history to date.

Win it, and their Stanley Cup aspirations are still very much alive. Lose it and they've fumbled a chance and fan hope that, in this new salary-capped NHL, might not come along again any time soon.

A victory in Game 3 would snap the inexplicable losing streak (four current games, eight straight playoff games over nine years) against a team they sure seem better than, plus provide a momentum swing that could quite conceivably lead them to a series clincher back in Buffalo next Monday.

HASEK EXPERIMENT A BUST

A defeat and some serious second-guessing of the entire operation will begin.

The Dominik Hasek experiment will officially be viewed as the bust that was predicted, regardless. And the blame will belong less with Ray Emery than with those who put a 23-year old rookie in this sensitive position in the first place.

It's not like the Senators wouldn't have made the playoffs had the brittle Hasek never been brought to town. Emery has had more ups than downs, but Hasek was signed precisely for this time of year. To provide championship consistency. To make sure the Senators wouldn't give up seven goals on nights they could only score six. To stand tall when the hands of Ottawa shooters turn to stone, as they did Monday and have done so many other such inopportune times in springs past.

A loss to the Fencing Swords would also serve as a cringing reminder of the "we don't have to make a trade" philosophy the Senators had when talks to add another proven producer like Doug Weight and Olli Jokinen came up empty.

The sight of Daniel Alfredsson dropping his arms and raising his eyes after flipping the puck wide of an open net would become locked in the franchise memory bank along with many other past frustrations, enforcing the opinion that he indeed did need some veteran help.

It doesn't have to end like this, it's not too late for the decision makers to come out looking like geniuses. The Senators can still stop the disaster heading their way in its tracks.

But that first means rising to meet the defining moment.

And that means not leaving it to a guy who failed to make the team out of training camp to be their best player, as was the case with Patrick Eaves in Game 2.

The 22-year-old rookie led the team in both shots on goal and hits, with six of each.

In his determination, he was also creating havoc to the left of Ryan Miller when Chris Phillips scored Ottawa's lone goal with a shot that should have been stopped.

"Maybe a little," Eaves said when asked if the Senators were gripping the sticks a little too tight in Game 2, sounding more like he believed that to be a inaccurate assessment. "I thought we played hard, we got a lot of shots and their goalie played well. We made two mistakes and they scored.

"We've got to keep doing what we're doing, and eventually good things will happen. All that starts from hard work."

And a little more leadership, perhaps.

ALFIE'S ERRORS INEXCUSABLE

Alfredsson is definitely struggling. He's committing inexcusable errors, such as the giveaway to Chris Drury that nearly led to a shorthanded goal in the third minute Monday.

And he has only scored once in seven playoff games.

Part of that must be put on the decision to break up the big line of Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley. With the situation reaching the dire level, it's a move that should be reversed tonight.

"It's not what we imagined going into the series," Alfredsson said when asked about the 2-0 deficit. "But we've got to deal with it and play our best games (tonight) and (tomorrow). We're far from done."

That's true of their attitude, their belief in the ability to turn this series around.

But in reality, they're walking a tight rope right over done, and there's a Fencing Sword poking in their side as they do so.


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