PITTSBURGH — The Ottawa Senators have painted themselves into a corner.
And as the Eastern Conference final, now tied 2-2, moves back to the PPG Paints Arena for Game 5 on Sunday at 3 p.m., the Senators will have to paint this town red one way or another if they’re going to win what’s become a best-of-three with the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins holding home-ice advantage.
The Senators were unable to push the Penguins to the brink of elimination on Friday night at the Canadian Tire Centre. With the 3-2 loss in Game 4, the Senators have put themselves in a precarious position as they try to move to the Stanley Cup final for the first time since 2007.
As far as coach Guy Boucher is concerned, the Senators have already exceeded expectations, so enjoy the moment.
“When you look back on what’s going on right now, I don’t think a lot of people thought it was going to be 2-2,” Boucher told reporters in Ottawa on Saturday. “Our players have got a lot of respect for what they’ve done, what they’re still doing, the opportunity we have. It’s 2-2 (in the) Stanley Cup conference final.
“Let’s go back to September, saying that’s where we’re going to be, we would jump on it. That’s why it’s a great day today.”
True enough, but it could have been even better if the Senators had the Penguins up against the ropes going into Game 5.
“The way you look at the series is we expected it to be a tough, long series, as we’ve expected the other series that we played in,” alternate captain Dion Phaneuf said.
“Would we have liked to have had a better outcome (Friday)? For sure. We’re at where we’re at. Now we get on a plane, go down to Pittsburgh, have a better game there. That’s where our focus is at.”
As the Senators noted, they’re in good shape and nothing has been decided. The Senators have been here before and, in case you don’t recall, the doubters were out in Round 2 when they lost two straight to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden to allow them to tie the series 2-2.
This time, it feels a little different. The Penguins might be banged up, but they’ve got depth that can compete. The decision by coach Mike Sullivan to go to Matt Murray worked out just fine, and it’s nice to have the option to turn to a goaltender that was able to lead the franchise to the Stanley Cup last spring.
The Penguins can draw on their experience in this situation because many of these players have been here before. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel have stepped up at different times to get the job done. It’s incumbent on the likes of the Senators’ Derick Brassard, Kyle Turris, Clarke MacArthur and Bobby Ryan to do the same.
At this juncture, Boucher isn’t sure they have to make changes because he knew this wasn’t going to be easy.
“I don’t think there’s adjustments to be made, to be honest with you. We haven’t looked at the tape yet. I might change my mind on that (Sunday),” Boucher said. “But I just think you look at the last four games, there was no luck involved. Two games we won, we deserved. Two games they won, they deserved. That’s to be expected.”
Boucher said the key for the Senators is to play 60 minutes. Yes, the club nearly erased a 3-0 deficit when Clarke MacArthur scored late in the second period and Tom Pyatt pulled the club to within a goal with 5:01 remaining in the third, but that kind of comeback is meaningless in the playoffs.
“When you look back, I thought the first two periods weren’t as good as I would have liked,” Boucher said. “It’s just the second period, maybe because they scored (twice to go up 3-0), then after that it deflated us a bit. I don’t know. Or because they were just who they are. I mean, it’s the Stanley Cup champions, the best team in the league. They’re going to make some pushes. They’re going to look good.
“All around, if you want to win, you need those 60 minutes to be a bit better.”
Remember, the Senators opened the East final with a 2-1 win here.
“We know we can do a good job. We beat them in their barn,” said centre Jean-Gabriel Pageau. “We know it’s not an easy task. We’ve got to be able to play with urgency right away.We’re going there with our heads up. We know what we have to do to get the win. We’ll try to do it.”
A decision on whether Alex Burrows (leg) and Mark Borowiecki (leg) will be available to play in Game 5 won’t be made until Sunday but it sounds doubtful that either one will be back.