If only LeBron could skate

STEVE SIMMONS

, Last Updated: 7:26 AM ET

OTTAWA -- With all else -- and almost the Stanley Cup -- lost, the Ottawa Senators have turned to a most unlikely inspiration for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final.

They are talking about LeBron James.

It's about the only positive they can find after being spanked in the first two games of the Cup final.

What else are you supposed to do when you're down two games, haven't looked anything close to the team you were all playoffs long, and are now being picked apart like a laboratory frog?

So when they can't complain about the refereeing, obstruction, the size of J-S Giguere's chest pads, and their own lack of mettle, the Sens can at least turn to the greatest basketball performance in recent memory.

At least, the analogy is current.

James' Cleveland Cavaliers, like the Senators, lost the first two games to the Detroit Pistons. But James has taken over the series and Cleveland has won three straight, heading home to finish this tomorrow.

Question is: Who is the LeBron James of the Ottawa Senators? Is it smiling Jason Spezza -- and we wonder, what is this man so happy about? Is it Daniel Alfredsson, the Conn Smythe favourite a week or so ago, now lost in translation. Is it Dany Heatley, the quietest 50-goal scorer anyone has ever known?

Or are the Senators grasping for whatever answers they can find in a series in which they might not find any?

"If you get hit with a right hand one time," said coach Bryan Murray, "you'd better duck the next time if the guy throws a right hand. We're going to try to duck."

The key word being Duck. The other key word being try.

The rest seems a long shot. Here in Ottawa, where paranoia is as much a part of the culture as hockey is, the Senators did what all desperate hockey teams do yesterday. They met. Then they met some more. Then they watched video. Then they watched more video. Then they were shown and told everything they were doing wrong.

Now all they do is find a way to change.

It won't be easy. Because, so far, this series has been all about Anaheim. If styles make fights, the Ducks have dictated the style of play through two games of the series and the Sens haven't put up much of a fight.

The scores were close. The games were not.

Ducks coach Randy Carlyle knows that as well as anyone. It's why he quietly has begun counting years. How long it has been for him, as many of his co-workers, waiting for the Cup.

For Carlyle, the answer is 30. This is his 30th season in professional hockey. "Closest I got as a player was with the '78 Leafs," Carlyle said. "We upset the Islanders and lost four straight to Montreal. Never got even close again."

For Bob Murray, the assistant general manager, this is Year 31 without a Cup. For Teemu Selanne, who leads all NHL players with most games played without a championship, this is his 15th season, one season fewer than teammate Brad May.

Brian Burke has handed off the conference championship trophies, just never lifted the big one himself.

"A lot of guys, a lot of years," Carlyle said. "This is our opportunity."

Sometimes, it's all about circumstance. In the 1993 entry draft, about a hundred years ago, the Senators had the first pick. They selected Alexandre Daigle.

The second pick happened to be Chris Pronger.

At the time, Daigle made the comment that nobody ever remembers who was No. 2.

"Funny how things work out," said Pronger, the Anaheim star defenceman. "I guess my response is still the same. We'll see what happens in 10 or 15 years."

It's actually 14 years later. A long time for Pronger to wait for his Stanley Cup. So long as the Senators don't go and pull a LeBron James on them.


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