PITTSBURGH -- The immediate inclination is to sigh and roll your eyes.
Blame the officials? Please. The Senators lost Game 2 of their opening-round playoff series with the Penguins on Friday because, for the majority of the night, they were by far and away the second-best team on the ice. To hear them whine about the referees afterward was to see them dodging reality. It also made them sound like losers, and not just the kind that wound up on the short end of the final score.
Over a post-game beer, however, the complaints are easier to swallow. Dennis LaRue and Kevin Pollock were extremely inconsistent, from a horrible holding call on Chris Phillips in the first period that left the Senators two men short and helped the Penguins to their first goal, to the end of the game.
If the refs are putting away their whistles late in the third period of a 3-3 deadlock, then away they should stay. As Joe Starkey points out in yesterday's Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Penguins were lucky Kris Letang wasn't called for hauling down Shean Donovan on a breakaway. They were also fortunate that Ryan Malone wasn't penalized for breaking his stick cross-checking Chris Neil shortly before scoring the winning goal on a power play.
To find himself in the box for that one, Martin Lapointe couldn't have caught Jarkku Ruutu in the face with his stick, as Ruutu portrayed in an Oscar-worthy performance. Lapointe's stick was moving fast as he tried to lift Ruutu's, and he would have drawn blood had he contacted skin. Still, accidentally high-sticking a guy in the helmet is a penalty by the strictest rules of the game, just as is intentionally cross-checking an opponent in the back.
Call both or neither. And if you're only going to punish one, shouldn't it be the deliberately committed crime?
The Senators didn't consciously want to come off like cry babies, but they were unable to stifle it when the injustice of it all sank in as they packed their equipment for the trip home. Their frustration was understandable. Even though they didn't deserve a win, Martin Gerber nearly stole it for them. They had momentum after Cody Bass tied things up.
A LOT OF IFS
If Lapointe was not given that penalty, if someone from the visitors' dressing room emerged as an overtime hero ... if the Senators were taking this series back home tied 1-1 after a complete and dramatic comeback, they'd suddenly be in the driver's seat with two games at Scotiabank Place. Now, they're down 2-0 and likely out of it, if not headed to the woodshed for a broom-beating in what would be the third time they've been swept from a playoff series in franchise history.
"You go two ways," Cory Stillman said before this best-of-seven began, when asked about the importance of getting off to a good start. "I've been on two teams that won the Stanley Cup after losing the first game of the playoffs. And right away, everybody was writing us off. We were down 1-0 against the Islanders, in Tampa, and 2-0 going into Montreal (with Carolina). What happened there? Well, we came out and worked hard, we had nothing to lose.
NEED BIG BOYS
"Right now, there's a lot of people not picking us probably to even go past four games. So it's a matter of going out, playing the game right, working hard and if we get a bounce who knows what might happen?"
The Senators need a big bounce, all right. They need Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley to bounce into the series. Starting to wonder who's going to show up first -- one of those or Daniel Alfredsson. And the whisper is Alfredsson has a torn MCL, although with him riding the bike and showing no limp, I wouldn't bet against him surprising everyone and suiting up for Game 3.
Spezza and Heatley better make their presence felt tomorrow, or the Senators are cooked.