Alive and kicking

Ray Emery's team-mates line up to pat him on the head at end of game after his stellar play helped...

Ray Emery's team-mates line up to pat him on the head at end of game after his stellar play helped extend the Sabres Senators series. (SUN/Fred Thornhill)

DON BRENNAN -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 12:41 PM ET

Their chances of survival have improved a whole sliver, from next to impossible to highly improbable.

And so, as this is the first day of the rest of their lives, the Senators no longer have to consider the unenviable prospect of trying to become just the third team in NHL history to bounce back and win a best-of-seven playoff set it once trailed 3-0.

Nope, now they can shoot to become the 21st team to make a full and complete comeback from the short end of a 3-1 series score.

"(Being down) 3-1 is still a tough spot to be in," goalie Ray Emery stated yesterday. "But it's looks a helluva lot better than 3-0."

The only club still eligible to win the 2006 Stanley Cup that has a home playoff record below .500 (2-3), the Senators will need to feed off a Scotiabank Place crowd that has seemed quieter so far (toss aside the Thundersticks and make some noise, would ya?) than in playoffs past when they host the Sabres in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semi-final tonight (7 p.m.).

They'll also need to come flying out of the gate (nudged by a loud crowd) just as they did in Thursday's 2-1 bullet dodger at HSBC Arena.

"I think the start was very important for us, to get a lot of pressure early on," Daniel Alfredsson said. "It gave us a lot of momentum, and we fed off it."

Unfortunately for them, the Senators waited until they were down to their last life to play with the necessary attitude.

While the team is now preaching a one-shift at a time approach, the attitude around town after a single victory is one of hope. Interestingly, there's even talk in some circles of Game 6 being the key, that if the Senators can just win that one in Buffalo, there will be no stopping them.

The players, of course, know they have to survive Game 5 first.

"You want to show some character," said Antoine Vermette, pointing to the way the Senators played a forechecking, physical style in finding success. "There's no tomorrow, we know that. We showed some desperation, and we have to keep playing that way. Every shift."

In snapping a nine-game playoff losing streak to the Sabres, the Senators didn't exactly cruise to victory. They followed a strong first period with a brutal second that saw the Sabres -- helped by really horrible penalty calls on Martin Havlat and Chris Kelly -- outshoot Ottawa 16-3. The work of Emery, who added some large saves in the third, kept them afloat.

'TOUGH LUCK'

"It was a team effort, as it has been since the start of the series," said Emery, who improved his save percentage to .902 and goals against average to 2.88. "We kinda came by some tough luck ... not to say you don't make your own luck, but it was nice to be on the right side of one (Thursday) and hopefully that win translates into some confidence and we can get things rolling here. We still have a long ways to go."

The tough luck he speaks of was partly their own doing. Coach Bryan Murray suggested his team didn't respect the Sabres as much as they should have at the start of the series.

"We talked about it so much in preparation for this series, as we do anytime you play a team," he said of Buffalo's speed and counter-attack ability. "And we got caught up in it. I guess the word maybe is respect. I guess we thought we could do whatever we felt we wanted to do, and wouldn't get burned as badly as we did.

"I have to go back to Game 1 all the time," he added of the 7-6 overtime loss in which the Senators allowed the lead to slip from their grasp five times. "The game was there, we were able to score goals. And we just kept giving it back to them ... Hopefully we've learned our lesson. Now we have our backs to the wall, we have to play very respectful every game going forward."

And so forward they go, cautiously optimistic.

"We know (Thursday) night doesn't matter (tonight)," Alfredsson said. "But it gave us another chance, and that's all we wanted."

don.brennan@ott.sunpub.com


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