BUFFALO -- This is not where many likely expected the Senators to be -- probably least of all themselves -- but this is the jumping off point now.
They streamed off their bus and into their hotel lobby late yesterday afternoon on a wonderfully brilliant day, sunglasses, iPods and cellphones the accessories of choice, faces appropriately drawn in light of the circumstance.
They came in from the late afternoon sunshine which slanted into the brown downtown here, the strut slapped off them by the outcome of the first two games of the Eastern Conference semi-final against the Sabres.
But this was the kind of day here that made you think of possibilities, a spring day with a feel of the promise of better things to come.
It's the kind of day you felt both this tired, battered city and a hockey team from up north facing an 0-2 deficit and the burden of doubt needed.
This is the jumping off point now, two possibilities clear.
The Senators can either lose Game 3 of this series against the Sabres and inevitably go down as the greatest underachieving group this franchise has known (which is saying something) or ...
Or they can win a game.
It sounds so simple and so complicated at once.
Just win a game.
It's not like they haven't been close in this series.
But for the heel of the left skate of Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller in the waning minutes of Game 2, a shot by Senators centre Jason Spezza might have sent the game into overtime.
The puck slipped between Miller's legs, brushed off his skate and ran out of momentum as its edge kissed the goal line.
"I saw it go through his legs and I don't know what happened after that. I thought it went in," Spezza said yesterday. "It's just part of playing the game ... They came into our rink and won two. There's no reason why we can't come in here and win two. They've got a good hockey club and they're playing real well right now, but we can still win these games."
A win tonight by the Senators will salvage hope. It can only be accomplished with the elimination of the catastrophic errors in judgment committed by both their young and their formerly reliable veteran players alike.
It can only be accomplished with the kind of crackling physical intensity shown by the likes of winger Peter Schaefer, who decimated Sabres forward Tim Connolly early in Game 2.
Schaefer saw linemate Martin Havlat get hit and went looking for retribution.
"I just remember Marty getting crunched earlier in that shift. I saw it. I made sure if I had a chance to finish my check ... it happened to be Connolly cutting across the ice. He's a good player and good with the puck, so when I had the opportunity to finish my check, he had his head down. I just finished through him," said Schaefer.
"I think if you watch other teams, like Anaheim, they're playing physical. San Jose is having success with everyone finishing checks and doing the little things. That's how we're going to turn things around."
It can only be accomplished with one save or two more from rookie goaltender Ray Emery. He was beaten on a 2-on-1 and a breakaway in Game 2, but the withering truth at this time of year is sometimes your team needs you to stop the shot you are not supposed to stop.
It is part of the unfairness of the position a goaltender must wear like a blocker or a mask.
They can win tonight if their core group of players find a way to play to their potential, to play like leaders.
"The guys are probably not feeling as good as we should be. We're down 2-0, so obviously things aren't going great," said Schaefer. "We've just got to find a way. We've got a great team here. We've just got to roll at them."
This is the opportunity to fight both the Sabres and the burden of history for this franchise. When a win -- one win -- has been needed, the Senators have withered.
"They finished three points behind us. They've been solid all year and won a lot of hockey games. We knew they were going to be good. We knew it was going to be a battle. We knew it was going to be a long series," said Spezza. "We still plan on having that."
Yes, it was that kind of day.
Now, the question is, can the optimism of a brilliant afternoon carry through a Buffalo night?