Senators: Backs against the wall

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OTTAWA -- They tried the novel approach.

They took their first lead.

They tried the dramatic approach.

They played their captain, absent the previous 10 days with a dreaded hat trick of acknowledged injuries: Head, back, knee.

They tried the kinder, gentler approach.

They gave the Penguins' dangerous, fancy-passing power play only two opportunities the first period, then officially one more in the second.

Still didn't work. They lost yet again.

So where do the Senators turn from here, after last night's 4-1 deflating defeat to the Penguins and an 0-3 series deficit, facing elimination tomorrow in a Game 4 that could hastily conclude a downward-spiraling season?

Bring back injured two-way center Mike Fisher? Bring back Fisher and injured fellow center Chris Kelly? Bring back Fisher, Kelly and the late Frank Finnigan, the "Shawville Express" who led ye old Ottawa Senators to the 1923 and 1927 Stanley Cups?

"I thought we had them after two [periods]," captain Daniel Alfredsson said after his 17 minutes, 4 shots, 2 takeaways and a heaping helping of an energy infusion. "It was a tough way to lose.

"Two quick goals" to open the third period. "It's kind of ..." Alfredsson then shrugged. "Too much."

Goals by Penguins captain Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal within the opening 90 seconds of the third period plunged that Spartan warrior mascot's sword into the heart of the Senators' last-ditch hopes.

They have never rallied from a three-game deficit in an NHL postseason, having lost in 1999 and 2001 in four games.

The Penguins have frittered away only one three-game lead in their history, and that made both league and professional-sports history when it happened back in 1975.

Alfredsson can try his Eddie Westfall and the Islanders impersonation. But little seems to be working for Ottawa lately -- four losses in succession, seven in their past eight games, 10 in 13. After a remarkable 15-2 start, the Senators have fallen and can't get up: Just 19 victories in their past 45 NHL games, and counting.

"Sure, it's frustrating," defenseman Chris Phillips said. "We're here now. Got to find a way."

"We played a great game for the first 40 minutes," added Jason Spezza, who made front-page news for missing Sunday's practice and threatening to join a starry injury list that included Alfredsson, Fisher and Kelly. "Alfie gave us a lift. We started the game well. Got the crowd into it. Good energy."

Alfredsson almost singularly started those positive feelings by making a return after a 10-day absence due to injuries. To get clearance to return, he needed only two game-day discussions with coach Bryan Murray, one mysterious and lonesome Sunday skate plus a pregame test in warm-ups. Yet it smacked of a desperate move by Murray and the Senators to try anything, and it worked ... for a time.

Nick Foligno, a 20-year-old rookie and son of former NHL player Mike, gave Ottawa its first lead in the series and himself the first playoff goal of his career -- which consisted of six goals in 45 games this season.

Spezza gathered the puck just past the blue line and threw a pass into the left circle to Foligno. Foligno knocked down the airborne puck and steered it around Penguins defenseman Ryan Whitney, then rapped a shot between Marc-Andre Fleury's legs.

Guess who was on the ice with that line?


Still didn't work.

"This guy is nothing but courageous," Murray said of his captain.

"We're going to give it everything we have on Wednesday," Alfredsson said. "We have no choice."

Chuck Finder can be reached at .


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