OTTAWA -- The injury-ravaged Senators needed some lift, some life. Captain Daniel Alfredsson returned last night in a not-so-veiled attempt to give them some of either. Or some of both. If not some scoring, too.
Alfredsson was invisible for 10 days and three games, including the Penguins' first two victories in this Eastern Conference quarterfinals. He was erased by an April 3 hit by Toronto's Mark Bell, which, depending upon whom you believe, left him with an MCL tear, concussion, aching back or possibly even broken ribs.
Yet after a Sunday night skate by himself, according to coach Bryan Murray, and a couple of game-day chats between coach and captain, Alfredsson made a dramatic comeback in warm-ups and into the Game 3 introduction of scratches, upon which the Scotiabank Place fans broke into chants of "Al-fie, Al-fie." Ex-Penguins forward Randy Robitaille, on the Senators' top line for Game 1, was a healthy scratch to make room for Alfredsson.
He is the club's all-time leading scorer in the regular season and postseason, not to mention last spring's playoff goal leader (14) and tied with linemates Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley for the top in points (22), too.
"He's a big guy, a leader on our team," defenseman Wade Redden said after the morning skate, when Murray first publicly floated the possibility of an Alfredsson comeback. "It would be a shot in the arm for the guys, get them fired up."
It came at a crucial moment when the Senators were not only down, 2-0, in the series, but deflated by yet another injury. Besides Alfredsson, centers Mike Fisher (knee) and Chris Kelly (leg) were also missing, and then Spezza missed Sunday's practice due to a leg injury from a check early in Game 2. The front page of The Ottawa Sun blared yesterday: "Not Spezz Too!"
But Alfie and Spezz were together again on the game's second shift, on a line with Nick Foligno. Alfredsson returned to quarterback the power play from the half boards and got a couple of nice shots early, one from the slot and another on a slapper that resulted in a mad scramble in Marc-Andre Fleury's crease.
It marked Alfredsson's 100th career playoff game.
A new, grand entrance by the Senators -- part of some arena upgrades -- made its debut last night at Scotiabank Place.
It all starts with a sliding glass door separating the locker room from the bench area amid a hallway repainted in the Senators' gold-red color scheme and logo. After a video prologue, a gent dressed something like a Spartan warrior gave a speech with sword raised and spotlight shining, and the Senators spilled out past a backlit gold shield and behind him onto the ice. Whether the theatrics can somehow help to prevent an early playoff exit remains to be seen.
Role players are vital this time of year, but you cannot replace world-class talents such as Alfredsson, Spezza and Heatley, opined Murray: "They just can't quite bring what the stars bring. The good players allow the role players to do their job." When you are forced by injury or lack of production to move such role players -- as in Cory Stillman's rise to last night's starting line with Heatley and Antoine Vermette -- "then you flounder a little bit as a team." ... Did Alfredsson and the home crowd provide a jump? The Senators' 14 shots in the first period were their most of the series yet, and they outhit the Penguins. ... Besides Robitaille, Fisher and Kelly, the Senators' other scratches were Luke Richardson, Brian McGrattan and rookie call-up Alexander Nikulin.