Alfie's return not enough

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:21 AM ET

Not the return of their captain, nor the game of his young career from Nick Foligno, nor another glittering performance from goaltender Martin Gerber could derail the inevitable.

The Penguins' speed and skill, coupled with the same chronic mistakes played out so often this season by the Senators, leave the club facing elimination tomorrow night at Scotiabank Place.

It wasn't quite a case of Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson throwing aside his crutches to play last night, but Alfredsson speeded up his return from a suspected torn medial collateral ligament to try to give his overmatched team a boost -- emotionally, if nothing else.

DON'T QUESTION ALFIE

"If anybody questions Daniel Alfredsson's character again," said Senators coach and GM Bryan Murray, "I might approach them in an unkind manner ... this guy has nothing but character."

For 40 minutes last night it seemed to work.

Then?

It all splintered apart a scant 12 seconds to open the third period.

Wielding the axe was Penguins star Sidney Crosby, slipping a puck by Senators forward Antoine Vermette and bursting in on Gerber, beating him to the stick side for a 2-1 Penguins lead.

At the 90-second mark, Pittsburgh's Jordan Staal got his stick on an airborne pass from the corner from Tyler Kennedy and the puck fluttered up into the top of the net.

Now the Senators are down 3-0 in this best-of-seven series and their season, which has been ebbing life and spirit and hope for the better part of the last five months after such a soaring start, will have its final breath sometime in the next few days.

Alfredsson's return was a reason for optimism for the both the Senators and their fans upon the series' arrival here and perhaps if he had been healthy at the start, things might have been different. In his absence, the Senators lacked poise and patience. Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley, his usual linemates, were ineffective in this series, much like they were in last spring's Stanley Cup final.

FOLIGNO SCORES FIRST

But Foligno gave the Senators a 1-0 lead and the teams were tied 1-1 after 40 minutes.

"I thought we had them after two (periods)," said Alfredsson. "Those two quick goals were too much for us. It's a tough way to lose."

Over the last couple of days, Alfredsson was trying to figure out if he could return after being injured on a hit by Maple Leaf Mark Bell in the second-to-last game of the regular season.

"I was trying to skate the last few days and get to the point where I could help the team and I did," said Alfredsson, who played 17 minutes, eight seconds last night and tied for the team lead in shots with four.

When your one-legged captain leads a team in shots, what's that say about some of the other guys?

Alfredsson's first appearance, at the 42-second mark, was marked by a prolonged ovation from the red-clad Scotiabank Place crowd and helped sustain the pre-game energy pumped out by the fans.

BREATHING ROOM

Alfredsson played on a line with Spezza, who was also doubtful for the game because of a gimpy leg, and Foligno. The captain, clearly labouring to get to cruising speed in open ice, nonetheless had a productive start and the line, on a goal by Foligno, gave the Senators their first lead of the series.

It gave the Senators a touch of breathing room, a luxury they had not been afforded in this series, but the Penguins showed their new-found resiliency in the ensuing minutes, perhaps content in the knowledge that given the opportunity to ratchet up their game, the Senators would have no answer ... or take a penalty.

Not even Alfredsson's remarkable return could change that.

He put it out there last night and deserved more from some of his teammates.

This series, frankly, probably sits exactly where it should at this point. It has been dictated by the faster, shiftier Penguins. They have frequently used their lopsided advantage in power plays to leave the Senators running around crazily or sagging around their net, looking like a punch-drunk and exhausted boxer clinging to the ropes and waiting for a bell to stop the onslaught.

Now, all that is left is the inevitable knockout punch.


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