EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It was a chance to hit New Jersey square between the eyes with a sense of deja vu.
A chance to follow the path cut by the Hurricanes on their way to picking up the Stanley Cup last spring.
A chance to shake their own demons while putting a stranglehold on this series against the Devils.
A chance wasted. And a fumble they may live to very much regret.
"It's disappointing," Dany Heatley said in the moments following Saturday's double-overtime defeat at the Meadowlands. "They came out hard, like we expected them to. They took it to us. But then we settled down and I thought played well."
They did that.
After being outshot 16-5 in the first period, the Senators turned the tables to the tune of 40-17 over the next four. Yet they needed Heatley's dramatics with 27 seconds left in regulation to extend the game and conjure up bad memories for New Jersey. About 51 weeks ago, after dropping the opener of a Round 2 series with Carolina, the Devils led Game 2 by the same 2-1 margin they held until the final ticks of the third period Saturday. But Eric Staal scored with three seconds left to send it into overtime, and Niclas Wallin won it for the Hurricanes 3:09 into the extra session.
The Devils would bounce back to take Game 3, but that would also be their last victory for five months.
"I was thinking about what happened against Carolina last year," centre Zach Parise admitted early yesterday morning. "It was hard not to."
"Obviously," Sergei Brylin stated of the Heatley goal, "it was upsetting."
However, no Senator jumped up to grab the hero status that was available in an OT that should have ended early. A weak hooking call on Brian Gionta at the third-period buzzer gave Ottawa a power play on a fresh sheet of ice to start Period 4, but Martin Brodeur wasn't asked to make a single save during the entire two minutes.
In failing to capitalize on their most important power play of the season, the Senators also dropped the momentum they should have been carrying from Heatley's goal. They had other opportunities to end it over the next 20 minutes, but the game should have ended with Gionta skating to the dressing room with his head down and the Devils questioning the judgment of referee Don VanMassenhoven.
And so now they are on equal footing in a best-of-seven that is unlikely to be decided by crowd noise or who has the last line change. And now they have set themselves up for the rhetorical question -- whether it comes again in a couple of weeks or next season -- of why this franchise can't win Game 2 of a series when it wins Game 1.
A day before the Senators' record in such circumstances dropped to 0-8, Chris Neil wasn't even aware anyone was counting.
"Oh yeah?" Neil said when told. "Well all I know is, at the end of the day, you have to win four."
They had a great chance to be halfway there Saturday night, but they blew it.
NOTES AND QUOTES: Next time the Devils are going into overtime and you're asked who you're taking to score the winner, go with Jamie Langenbrunner. He now has four playoff OT goals, second to only Joe Sakic's seven among active NHL players. After Saturday's win, Langenbrunner chuckled about a great chance he had to score in the second period. "It was a great play by (linemate Travis Zajac)," he said of the setup. "And I made the move I wanted, but I lost the puck. When I got back to the bench, Lou (Lamoriello) sort of patted me on the back and told me not to worry, that I'd get one." ... Before Saturday, the Senators were 3-0 against the Devils in playoff sudden deaths. Past heroes were Chris Phillips (May 21, 2003), Shaun Van Allen (May 10, 2003) and, of course, Bruce Gardiner (April 22, 1998).