Johnston: Alfredsson, Senators hit hard by reality

Daniel Afredsson (CP/Adrian Wyld)

OTTAWA – If this was indeed the final meaningful twirl around Scotiabank Place for Daniel Alfredsson, it will be memorable for all of the wrong reasons.

Reality hit the Ottawa Senators hard on Wednesday night.

In fact, it was merciless.

Once the final horn sounded on a 7-3 victory for the Pittsburgh Penguins – one that swiftly shoved the Senators to the brink of elimination – the long-time Ottawa captain went over to the linesman and retrieved the puck as a souvenir.

He said later that it was because he has “lots of kids at home,” but you couldn’t help but wonder if the 40-year-old was also thinking that this might be it for him in a city where he is adored.

Alfredsson certainly wasn’t optimistic about Ottawa’s chances of pulling out of a 3-1 deficit to the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Asked if it was feasible to win three straight games against the Penguins, he replied: “Probably not.”

“With their depth and power play right now it doesn’t look too good,” he said candidly.

While some might take that as Alfredsson waving the white flag, he made it abundantly clear that the Sens wouldn’t simply lie down in Game 5 at Consol Energy Center on Friday night.

“I know what we’re going to do – we’re going to go out and we’re going to play one hell of a game,” Alfredsson said. “That doesn’t worry me at all. We know the odds are against us in every way but we never quit.”

The pesky team that could has simply met its match. Unless goalie Craig Anderson becomes a miracle worker in the coming days, there just doesn’t seem to be any reasonable way for them to contain the dangerous Penguins attack.

James Neal wasn’t going to go an entire series without scoring. Neither was Jarome Iginla. And you just knew that Sidney Crosby wouldn’t be held at bay on very many nights, either.

That trio lit up the score sheet in Game 4 and each had a goal during a punishing stretch in the third period that saw a 3-2 game become a 7-2 game in the blink of an eye.

“We’re up against a monster here,” Senators defenceman Marc Methot said.

There is no shame in admitting that. The Penguins will almost certainly hand out more punishment before all is said and done this spring.

Heck, they’ve now scored at least four goals in eight of 10 post-season games and did it in every way possible Wednesday – with two on the power play, one short-handed and four at even strength.

Amazingly, the night had begun with a dream start for the Senators, who received a dazzling short-handed strike from Milan Michalek just 2:29 into the first period.

It was their first lead of the entire series.

Michalek looked like he had been shot out of a cannon when Alfredsson hit him with an outlet pass and he raced past Kris Letang before beating Tomas Vokoun over the glove hand.

Even after the sniper Neal ended a five-game goal-less drought and tied the game 1-1 – “I think it was real big for him to be able to find that puck and get that goal for us,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said – the Senators kept coming.

Kyle Turris knocked home a bad Vokoun rebound to make it 2-1 before the intermission and there was a little reason for the sellout crowd to believe.

At least until the second period began with Chris Kunitz and Iginla scoring 40 seconds apart.

“We came out with a lead after the first period,” Alfredsson said. “I thought we were in good position. And then we gave them two goals pretty quick and that changes the whole game. From there on they take over.”

One tiny sliver of a silver lining appeared late in regulation when Alfredsson scored his fourth goal this spring. It was his 100th career playoff point – another milestone in a Hall of Fame career and just in time with another season on the verge of ending.

However, there is a danger in reading too much into the captain’s decision to keep the puck once Wednesday’s game ended.

Remember that Alfredsson stopped the Senators team bus as it was pulling out of Madison Square Garden last year to shake hands with Ottawa fans who had made the trip to watch the team’s Game 7 loss to the Rangers in the first round.

At that time, it looked like something a player pondering retirement might do.

The winger has yet to make a firm decision one way or the other about next season but has indicated that he’s mindful of the fact his four children are growing up quickly. After Game 4, he claimed his only focus was on trying to get another win against the Penguins and that it hadn’t entered his mind that this could be his last home game.

“Whatever happens happens I guess,” Alfredsson said. “I don’t know myself yet. It’s not something that I’m thinking about. (I’m not worried about) the what ifs."

“It’s a frustrating night and we’re just going to have to go to Pittsburgh to try to bring one more game to this building.”

Still, there was a strange vibe in the air at Scotiabank Place after a demoralizing loss.

Perhaps aware of Alfredsson’s comments, Ottawa coach Paul MacLean borrowed a page from John Tortorella’s playbook and didn’t take any questions from reporters.

He simply stood at the podium and held up the game sheet before making a 13-second statement.

“I think everything’s right here – it’s 7-3,” MacLean said. “See you in Pittsburgh. We’re going to Pittsburgh and we’re coming to play. Have a good night.”

It was a fitting end to one that was anything but that for Ottawa.

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