PITTSBURGH — Odds are nobody who looks at this space on a regular basis is going to like this because they know I’m generally horrible with predictions.
But while sticking with the original call for a sweep, now that the Eastern Conference final has boiled down to a best-of-three I’m taking the Senators.
They will win on Sunday afternoon at the PPG Paints Arena, then knock the crown off the champs on Tuesday night at the Canadian Tire Centre.
It’s still a sweep. Just a smaller broom.
First-time visitors here should know, before shrugging this off as the opinion of a “homer,” that I have picked Ottawa to lose in every round thus far.
The Penguins were going to win the ECF in four, my crystal ball insisted. But while sitting in the backseat of a van driven by The Globe and Mail’s esteemed Roy MacGregor, I tossed it onto the I-81 near Watertown.
Ottawa, I’m surprised to report, has been the better team more than halfway through this series. Marginally, but still better. And more deserving to move on.
The Senators would be up 3-1 right now if not for a shot by noted sniper Brian Domoulin (who doubled his season total in his 86th game) that passed through the slot and was headed to the corner boards until it hit the skate of Dion Phaneuf, changed directions and went into the net for what would stand as the winner.
Otherwise, the third period would have ended with the teams tied at twos, and we all know what the Senators do in overtime.
Winning Game 4 would have made things too easy, and we also all know, after watching the Senators play so many one-goal games this season, they rarely take the easy way. Besides, Friday was the 10th anniversary of Daniel Alfreddson’s game-winner in the ECF against Buffalo, a moment that should stand alone on the May 19 “This Day In History” of the Senators.
It was obvious by their very demeanour in the walk from the dressing room to the opening faceoff — I noticed while watching the PVR’ed broadcast early Saturday morning — that the Senators didn’t bring the necessary energy or intensity to Game 4. Oh, they had talked about being prepared for the Penguins’ desperation level, just as they had talked about being ready for the same thing from the Rangers in Game 4 of that series. But when showtime arrived, they didn’t match Pittsburgh’s effort and ultimately fell behind by three.
Unlike Game 4 against the Rangers, which they lost by three, the Senators finally did snap to attention. And it is with that third-period determination I expect they’ll show up against the Penguins.
Once they squeeze out a victory on Sunday, the Senators will wrap it up at a Canadian Tire Centre gone bananas on Tuesday.
For these Senators — I have come to accept while watching them hurdle obstacles and perform overtime magic — are truly a team of destiny.
I really enjoy making the journey to Pittsburgh, my favourite city in the U.S., but Saturday was the last time it will happen this season.
When I cross the border heading south next, I’ll be telling customs officials I’m going to Nashville or Anaheim.
And yes, it will be a business trip.
ON THE ROAD AGAIN: As pointed out by Don Cherry on Coach’s Corner, Phil Kessel waved his right hand in pain when slashed on his left by Mike Hoffman in the first period on Friday. Embellishing a stick to the face is a little different, but either way, you’d expect Sunday’s referees would remember how Kessel made one of their brothers look so bad … Like all coaches at this time of the year, Mike Sullivan is tight-lipped when discussing injuries, giving out no more information than whether it’s an upper- or lower-body injury, if he even divulges that much. But on Friday he barely needed any prompting to report that Chad Ruhwedel has a “concussion” after being hit by Bobby Ryan. If that’s not a cry for supplemental discipline, I don’t know what is … Even though they lost Game 4, let’s hope the Senators go back to Krista Jane for the anthems on Tuesday. Some say she’s starting to draw out the anthems. And some of us could listen to her all day …
RUMBLE STRIPS: In defending the Senators’ sorest spot before Game 4, Guy Boucher recalled a “perfect example” of why power-play numbers are unimportant in the playoffs. When his Lightning met the Bruins in the ECF six years ago, Boucher said, Tampa Bay had an “outstanding” power play. “Boston was at about 3.5 per cent power play the entire playoffs,” he said, “and they won the Stanley Cup.” Boucher was right about one thing: the Bruins won the Cup. But their power play actually had an 11.4 per cent efficiency, while ranked 14th of the 16 teams that made the playoffs. I just felt the need to call him out on that one … Before Saturday’s game, the Senators’ power play was operating at an 11.5 per cent efficiency, which also ranked 14th … A 20-to-25-minute drive along the Queensway to the Canadian Tire Centre at 4 p.m. on the Friday of a long weekend took exactly 66 minutes prior to Game 4. Should have recognized that as a good sign for the Penguins, who had a No. 66 even more famous than Josh Ho-Sang … Another sign things were going to go Pittsburgh’s way on Friday night: For the first time in four games, Crosby won the opening faceoff against Jean-Gabriel Pageau, then clipped No. 44 in the face with his stick before the two separated.