OTTAWA - Without a victory or any sign of help on the way from the injury list, the Ottawa Senators were back home Saturday still hopeful of getting back into their playoff series with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
A heart-breaking 5-3 loss Friday left the Sens down 2-0 in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarter-final heading into Game 3 Monday.
The Senators rallied from a 3-0 deficit at Mellon Arena only to lose when Ryan Malone scored on the power play with 62 seconds remaining.
"We're down 2-0, but definitely a lot to build off coming home," said defenceman Chris Phillips. "We showed some character battling back and doing some good things that we wanted to do at the start of the series and didn't."
After allowing the Penguins to score the first seven goals of the series without a reply, the Senators finally woke up midway through Friday night's game and threw a scare into Pittsburgh.
If not for Martin Lapointe's late high-sticking penalty, Ottawa might have been able to steal a victory in a game in which it was outshot 54-30. Instead, the Senators will settle for what they consider a moral triumph.
"I think we have to a little bit," said centre Jason Spezza. "We showed we got ourselves back in the game. It was unfortunate the way it ended with them getting that late power play, but definitely we can take a small victory from it and try to get a full win now."
Spezza didn't take part in Saturday's optional skate at Scotiabank Place after he appeared to pick up a leg injury Friday. He said the injury won't prevent him from playing Monday, when the Senators hope a similarly gutsy effort gets rewarded with a better outcome.
They have to, otherwise their chances of coming back will be bleaker than they already are. Ottawa has trailed a playoff series 2-0 on six occasions in the modern franchise's history and has gone on to lose every time.
"Obviously it didn't go the way we wanted the first two games, but we're pretty excited to see our home crowd for Game 3. Now we have home ice," said Shean Donovan, who started Friday's rally with the team's first goal of the series after it was shut out 4-0 in Game 1. "You build on (Friday). That's the way the series is. Momentum changes. Just take that momentum into Game 3. We know what a huge game it is for us."
The Senators go into Monday's game knowing they still need work in several areas, some of them more obvious than others.
"You can't take nine penalties and you can't give up 54 shots," said general manager and coach Bryan Murray in reference to Friday's game.
Murray had high praise for his depth players, but said he's expecting more out of stars Spezza and Dany Heatley, who've combined for one point. By contrast, Pittsburgh stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have 10 between them so far.
As a result, Murray's hoping that being on home ice, where the Senators will have the final change, will help Ottawa contain them, especially since it doesn't appear the Senators can expect help in the form of injured forwards Daniel Alfredsson (upper body, knee), Mike Fisher (knee) or Chris Kelly (leg) any time soon.
Despite rumours that he'll make an appearance in the series, Alfredsson, who was hurt by a vicious check from Toronto's Mark Bell in the second-to-last game of the regular season, didn't skate yesterday and didn't address the media.
Instead, the Senators will continue to hope for production from other sources. In addition to Donovan, Ottawa's only goals have come from Cory Stillman and Cody Bass.
With the Binghamton Senators, Ottawa's American Hockey League affiliate, being officially eliminated from a playoff spot on Friday, Murray recalled centre Alexander Nikulin on Saturday and said more players could be called up Sunday.
"We're pretty comfortable in the situation," Spezza said. "We've played a lot of playoff games and had pretty good success in the last few years, so we're not too worried about it."