Ottawa Senators defenceman Andrej Meszaros (left), goaltender Ray Emery (centre) and defenceman Anton Volchenkov (24) leave the bench at the end of their 3-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks. (CP PHOTO/Paul Chiasson)
Only the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs have ever erased a 3-1 lead in the Stanley Cup final and these Senators don't have the look of a team about to join them in the history books. Ottawa thoroughly outplayed Anaheim in the first period of Game 4 on Monday night before going completely flat in a 3-2 loss. "It's hard to explain," said forward Mike Fisher. Indeed, none of the Senators seemed to have any explanation for what had just happened.
The Stanley Cup will be in the Honda Center for Game 5 on Wednesday and it seems reasonable to expect that the Ducks might be drinking champagne from it that night.
Asked about his team's chance of erasing a 3-1 series deficit, coach Bryan Murray said: "If we play like we did for two periods tonight, it's not very good."
The most startling thing about Ottawa's play so far in the series has been the ineffectiveness of its forwards. The Senators boast the top three scorers in these playoffs, but the team has had trouble generating offensive chances.
In Monday's game, the Senators managed just six shots on goal in the final period of a game that was tied with 20 minutes to play. It hardly looked like desperate hockey.
"They're doing a good job of clogging it up and blocking a lot of shots and just making it hard for us to get chances," said forward Jason Spezza, who has been held to two assists in the series. "I don't know - there's really no explanation."
Murray and his coaching staff have a difficult task at hand. The Senators seemed totally demoralized after the loss, with a couple of players describing the team's play using multiple expletives.
Both the game and momentum in the series were there for the taking.
Anaheim was playing in a hostile road building without suspended defenceman Chris Pronger and the Ducks managed just two shots in the opening 20 minutes. To top it off, Ottawa scored the game's first goal with 0.3 seconds to play in the first period.
But the Senators couldn't capitalize after that.
"Right now it's pretty tough," said captain Daniel Alfredsson. "It's not over and we're not going to give up, but it's tough to lose this one tonight."
They now face the same situation the Edmonton Oilers found themselves in a year ago. The Oilers won Game 5 on the road in Carolina before taking Game 6 at home and losing in the seventh game.
Ottawa would love to rally and give itself a chance in a seventh game.
"We've got to lay it all out there," said veteran defenceman Chris Phillips.
It will be interesting to see how the Senators respond to the situation. The playoffs to this point have been free of adversity as Ottawa lost just three times in the first three rounds.
They've lost three of the last four since then.
"I think we're maybe a little bit frustrated but I don't think our confidence is shaken," said Spezza.
Don't expect any of the Senators to be reading books on hockey history as they make the cross-continent flight to California.
They plan on focusing on the great season they've had and trying to put together their first complete 60-minute effort of the series. The message - think positive.
"It's a big hole but it's not something that's insurmountable," said Spezza. "We can't worry about trying to win the series, we've got to win the next game first."
The Honda Center will be rocking Wednesday with the Ducks able to clinch the first Stanley Cup ever for a team from California.
Very few will be expecting the series to get back to Ottawa and the Senators hope to rally around that.
"We still have to believe," said forward Antoine Vermette.
Added Alfredsson: "We've won three in a row before."