Senators Jason Spezza laughs with teamate Chris Phillips during team practice Tuesday. (CP PHOTO/Tom Hanson)
Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley were blanked in Ottawa's 3-2 loss to Buffalo in Wednesday's Game 4 of the NHL Eastern Conference final. The win kept the Sabres' slim hopes of a comeback alive. The Senators lead the best-of-seven series 3-1 and hope to book their first trip to the Stanley Cup final with a victory in Game 5 on Saturday afternoon in Buffalo 2 p.m. ET.
In 13 previous playoff games this spring, at least one of the Senators' Big Three scored.
But with a chance for a first series sweep in team history in front of a home crowd of 20,294 that was expecting a mass celebration, they had perhaps their weakest night of the playoffs, although they buzzed goalie Ryan Miller's net to no avail during a third-period power play.
At the end of the night, Spezza and Heatley had two shots apiece, while Alfredsson, who ended a five-game goals streak, had none.
"There's going to be nights when the puck doesn't go in for us," Spezza said Thursday. "We got chances.
"If we didn't get any chances and we felt they shut us down, we'd have to go back to the drawing board. But we had tons of chances between the three of us."
There may have been some complacency among the Senators after taking a 3-0 series lead on the NHL's first-place overall team this season, but Heatley insisted it was just a "weird" game.
Derek Roy scored on a turnover only nine seconds into the game. A five-on-three in the second period produced Buffalo's first power-play goal of the series, and Chris Drury made it 3-0 on a shot Ray Emery should have stopped.
The Senators came back with goals from Dean McAmmond and Peter Schaefer late in the second frame but despite 15 third-period shots couldn't beat Miller, who was outstanding for a second straight game.
"We're not worried," said Heatley. "We'll keep doing what's made us successful, especially us three - skating well, moving the puck, and if we don't have a play, dumping it in and getting a good forecheck.
"We had chances. I don't think there was cause for real panic."'
Coach Bryan Murray said the club lost its focus after the early goal, which led to the sort of mistakes Ottawa's opponents have been making through the first three rounds - especially the team's 15 turnovers.
"That comes from people trying to do to much by themselves," said Murray.
The coach noted that for the first time, players wore themselves down by staying out on the ice too long on shifts.
And the chief culprits were his top line, who he said were trying to make fancy plays at the blue-line instead of getting the puck in deep and working in the Buffalo zone.
But Murray took heart in seeing Schaefer, his second-line winger, finally score his first of the playoffs. The Senators have leaned too much on one line for goals in the post-season and would like to get the Schaefer-Mike Fisher-Mike Comrie trio going. Combined, they have only six playoff goals.
"The fact that he shot the puck in itself was something," Murray said of Schaefer. "Peter's got a terrific shot.
"Goaltenders have a hard time with it. He's a good player who does a lot for us, but he doesn't shoot enough."
The Senators head to Buffalo on a 0-for-12 power play drought, but had enough scoring chances that they aren't yet calling it a slump.
And Miller, who made a huge glove save on Joe Corvo from the slot in the third period, is not yet eating at their minds.
"We knew coming in he was a great goaltender and that he'd make great saves," said Heatley.
It could all change if Miller stands on his head again and the Sabres force a Game 6 on Monday night back in Ottawa. The Senators have been reminded time and again of the team's playoff disappointments in past years, which has made their fans a particularly nervous lot.
"We're up 3-1 and we still believe we have a great opportunity," added Spezza. "We're a different team. I think the fans realize that."
The Senators had an optional skate. They will practise Friday before flying to Buffalo.
In Buffalo, coach Lindy Ruff told reporters that forward Dainius Zubrus was unlikely to play due to a lower body injury, believed to be a groin problem suffered in the first game of the series. Zubrus played only six shifts in Game 4.