Ottawa Senators goaltender Ray Emery makes the save off Buffalo Sabres Danile Briere during the first period. (CP PHOTO/Jonathan Hayward)
And now his Senators are only one win away from the Stanley Cup final. Emery needed only 15 saves while his defence blocked another 13 as the Senators posted a 1-0 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Monday night. Ottawa leads the best-of-seven NHL Eastern Conference final 3-0 and can sweep what was expected to be a close, high-scoring series with a win in Game 4 on Wednesday night at Scotiabank Place.
"We're a really good defensive team, but that was exceptional," said Emery after his third shutout of the post-season. "They're always blocking shots, but that was a real shut-down game."
Captain and playoff goal-scoring leader Daniel Alfredsson got the game's only goal on a fortunate bounce in the second period as Ryan Miller stood tall, making 31 saves for a desperate Buffalo team.
But his own side, which had four 30-goal scorers this season, could not penetrate the Sabres' thorough checking and defensive play.
Now the team that led the NHL in scoring and finished first overall this season is on the brink of elimination by the team it ousted in five games only last spring.
Only two NHL teams - the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs and the 1975 New York Islanders - have ever won a series after trailing 3-0.
"It's going to take something special," said a sombre Sabres coach Lindy Ruff. "We had some tremendous streaks during the regular season and we're going to have to put one together now."
The Senators, considered post-season underachievers in recent seasons by some, are vying to reach the Stanley Cup final for the first time since the franchise was revived in 1992.
Alfredsson scored at 13:40 of the second period, finishing a wild play in which Dany Heatley's bullet shot went off the back boards, hit Miller's elbow and rolled into the crease for a tap-in goal.
It was the Senators' sixth playoff win in a row and the fifth straight game in which Alfredsson has scored.
But hot as he and the team are, there was no gloating.
"We're confident, but we're respectful of our opponent," Alfredsson said, with three-year-old son Hugo on his knee for the post-game interview. "We're not taking anything for granted. We know they're a dangerous team."
More shocked than the players was the festive crowd of 20,171, who streamed out in their Senators' red gear and immediately began a car horn-honking party.
The home side has been particularly sharp killing penalties. Buffalo was 0-for-6 with the man advantage and is without a goal in 18 opportunities in the series.
Ruff tried using bigger checking wingers like Paul Gaustad on the power play late in the game to help retrieve loose pucks, but nothing worked. The Sabres had only one shot on the power play in the game.
"We were outstanding," said Ottawa coach Bryan Murray.
Miller held the Sabres in a game through a 13-4 bombardment in the first period in which he stoned Alfredsson on a rebound and made a huge glove save on Chris Kelly.
He was helped by his goalpost on an Andrej Meszaros shot in the third.
Emery was rarely tested, facing only 10 shots through the first two periods, but he made a sharp saves on Maxim Afinogenov and Jason Pominville in the second.
"They didn't generate much," said Emery. "You had to try to stay focused and mentally sharp for when they did get a chance."
Notes-Defenceman Henrik Tallinder was in the Sabres' starting lineup despite a hard hit into the boards from Alfredsson in Game 2 in Buffalo and there were no lineup changes for either club. Tallinder was called for high-sticking Alfredsson in the third period. . . A Canadian-based team has not won the Cup since the 1993 Montreal Canadiens. . . Scotiabank Place has 11 Stanley Cup banners won by various Ottawa clubs in the early 20th century.