They say two off days between playoff games is too long to wait.
The Ottawa Senators could do with three.
They could use that first day to cope with being so badly rattled by their own play and emotions Monday night that their effort could only be described as a “meltdown.” The second day would be for remembering what it was that made them the surprise of the Eastern Conference in 2011-12. And the third to prepare for Game 7 against the top-seeded New York Rangers, winner take all, loser go home.
That game, unfortunately, will be played Thursday in New York, meaning all the psychoanalysis, recalibrating and preparation has to be done in two quick days, or else.
Let us revisit Monday's debacle: the Senators take an early lead and then begin taking dumb penalties at bad times; they abandon their famous work ethic until late in the third period where a debatable Ottawa goal ends the game 3-2, the score nowhere descriptive of the actual play; the power play is so useless coach Paul MacLean benches the first unit; and the captain freaks out.
Yes, that's correct. Daniel Alfredsson, the model citizen's model citizen, goes into a rage in full view of the cameras.
He smashed his stick so hard on the boards that teammate Colin Greening, sitting on the bench, reacts, in his own words, “as if I was being shot.” Alfredsson smashes his stick, then smashes and stomps on water bottles to a point that he looks more like he is working in a grape tank than standing at a hockey bench.
Such unbelievable timing. The evening had begun with two of Alfredsson's sons, Hugo and Loui, skating with Senators flags to open the event, the two boys circling the ice to wild cheers and Alfredsson's favourite U2 tune I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For.
The possibility that this might be the final home game for the popular 39-year-old captain could not be missed. No way, however, would Alfredsson wish his final image in Scotiabank Place to be one of a grown man having a hissy fit.
In a moment of remarkable irony, the following morning Alfredsson finds out he is a finalist for the NHL's Masterton Trophy that goes to the player who “best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.”
“I feel badly, obviously,” a contrite Alfredsson said on Tuesday. “I didn't really have control of my emotions at all.”
He swept aside any suggestion that his rage might have been tied to the well-known irritability that often accompanies concussions – Alfredsson returning from three games away dealing with a head injury.
“I don't think so. I don't want to blame it on that.”
While some thought his anger was at least partially directed toward the head coach – who had given up on the power-play unit of Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek – Alfredsson said it was far more about being “mad at myself.” The power play had not only sputtered but he himself had been rocked by a hard hit from the Rangers' John Mitchell.
“After I took that hit,” Alfredsson said, “I lost it. It was bad. I'm definitely not proud of it.”
Alfredsson was most noticed, but hardly alone. Other Senators lost their cool: defenceman Erik Karlsson hurling his stick, forward Chris Neil hot-dogging after a fight with Brandon Prust, the Rangers claiming Michalek tried to kick a Rangers defenceman, a string of seven penalties versus four to the Rangers ...
Goaltender Craig Anderson, the star of Ottawa's three victories in this series, was among several players defending the outburst. “There's a lot of emotion raised,” he said. “It's time of year where, if you don't care, you don't belong here.”
Spezza, who has taken heat this series despite his three goals, found himself forced to defend his relationship with MacLean, who has been caught on television chastising Spezza for not shooting when given glorious opportunity and who has benched the star centre periodically for his uneven play.
“No issues whatsoever,” Spezza said. “We have a great relationship.”
MacLean, he added, should be up for coach of the year, given what he has done for this rebuilt team for which so little was expected.
MacLean himself was being questioned for tinkering with his lineup between a successful Game 5 and the Game 6 meltdown, but he wasn't backing down. “We think it's the right thing to do.”
Nor was the coach letting up on his star centre. What Spezza lacks, he said, is “consistency – we'd like to see him shoot the puck more.”
As for the first-unit power play, he had no intention of explaining precisely to the three forwards what he has found so disappointing in their play: “I don't think they have to understand – they just have to know.”
“If there was a message sent,” Spezza said, “it was received.”
One day off spent dealing with the enemy within, the second day off, surely, would be concerned with the enemy on the other side of the ice they will face on Thursday.
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