PITTSBURGH – Facing elimination, the Ottawa Senators are going back to their comfort zone.
Paul MacLean hopes that Game 5 against the Pittsburgh Penguins will be just a little easier to play on Friday night after reuniting the team’s top line of Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek.
“That’s a line that we can always go back to,” MacLean said after the morning skate at Consol Energy Center. “Obviously, they are a veteran threesome that have played a number of games in the league. …
“The start of the game hasn’t been very good for us in the first four games and maybe if we put our veteran guys together and get them on the ice early in the game it can have a calming effect for the rest of the group.”
With the Senators trailing 3-1 in the second-round series, you can certainly expect them to log heavy minutes.
As Spezza put it, the trio is looking to "find some old chemistry."
The 29-year-old centre will be playing his third game since returning from back surgery and acknowledged that he’s putting pressure on himself to produce. Alfredsson has two goals in the series while Michalek scored a lovely short-handed marker in Game 4.
After a turbulent few days, there was a sense of calm in the Ottawa dressing room.
"We have to play with desperation and with the feeling that we’ve got nothing to lose," said Alfredsson. "And we don’t. We have worked hard all year to just get into the playoffs and now when we’re here down 3-1 we have to just play and rely on what brought us here."
The only other expected lineup change for the Senators was the return of winger Cory Conacher from the press box. He is likely to take the spot of Mark Stone, who suffered an undisclosed injury after crashing feet first into the boards during Game 4.
Pittsburgh wasn’t expected to make any changes as it sought to close out its first series at home since beating Philadelphia in the 2008 Eastern Conference final.
Since then, the team has failed in six opportunities to finish off an opponent at home. Many of the Penguins players spent Thursday night watching games from around the league and noted that the favourites aren’t always winning.
"I think you realize year after year that the playoffs are tough," said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby. "There’s no guarantees, there’s no gimmes. You have to make sure that you’re at your best.
"Even when you’re at your best that doesn’t guarantee anything."
The Senators will need a better level of execution if they are to extend the series. They gave Pittsburgh 21 power-play chances through the first four games and were looking to play with a little more discipline on Friday.
There was also a need for a little more poise, which helps explain MacLean’s decision to load up one line with his most trustworthy players.
"I don’t know if we want it too much sometimes," said Senators defenceman Erik Karlsson. "We’ve just got to realize what type of situation is out there and just go out and make a decision and stick to it.
"Right now it feels like whatever decision we take we’re not really 100 per cent sure of it."
The game plan is getting simplified now. With no margin for error and virtually everyone counting them out, the Senators were just looking to go out and put everything on the line.
"We’re in a corner and just looking to get back to Ottawa," said Alfredsson.