The tension is there, even if it’s not immediately apparent.
Sure, the Pittsburgh Penguins were horsing around at their optional pregame skate – Simon Despres managed to cover fellow defenceman Kristopher Letang with snow basically from head to toe when he screeched to a stop in front of him – and yes, the atmosphere in the Ottawa Senators’ room was loose and giddy, but everyone understands the stakes.
Precedent favours the Penguins – who have won both playoff game fours they’ve played in Ottawa – and puts the Sens at a disadvantage (Ottawa is 0-for-7 in franchise history in series it has trailed 2-0), but as the saying goes, there’s a reason they play the games.
Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson vowed that his squad will be ready for a game (7:30 p.m., CBC, RDS) that is weighty with consequence, and which comes after two off-days to stew over the stakes.
A 3-1 deficit is a long way from a 2-2 tie, no one needs to remind the players.
“We’re ready to go, we have to be,” said the man whose 49 saves paved the way for a 2-1 double-overtime triumph Sunday that puts Ottawa in a position to tie the series at two games apiece.
The Pens have seen that movie once already in the playoffs, and are determined to take their opportunity to put Ottawa in a 3-1 hole.
Letang called it a “critical” game, saying that “when you lead in a series, you just can’t allow them to tie it.”
He was quick to point out that Sunday’s defeat has been fully metabolized.
“We feel comfortable about our game . . . the two days off probably had an effect on both teams, if they were high they’ve come down a little, if we were a little down we’ve been able to come back up,” added Letang, who was on the ice for Ottawa’s last-minute tying goal in game three.
This game should feature a number of lineup changes, even if the coaches who will make those decisions were being cagey.
It seems that big-bodied rookie Mark Stone will draft into the Ottawa lineup in favour of diminutive forward Cory Conacher – one of the game four heroes for the Sens in the first round against Montreal.
Ottawa has yet to play with a lead in this series, and the Senators' coaches clearly feel Stone could add some more punch around the net.
It’s not a new experience for the hulking winger, who played his first NHL game in the 2012 playoffs on the road against the New York Rangers, and notched an assist on Jason Spezza’s winning goal.
Ottawa coach Paul MacLean indicated the team views Stone as an ideal linemate for Spezza in the medium term, they are likely to be matched with winger Milan Michalek on Wednesday.
“We played together last year in a game and had good success, hopefully he can give us a little touch around the net,” said Spezza, who played his first game in nearly four months because of back surgery and said the two days off between games did him tremendous good.
On the Pittsburgh side of the ledger, coach Dan Bylsma said any discussion of his lineup would be “hypothetical”, although it seems centre Jussi Jokinen, who hasn’t played in the Ottawa series, will be called upon.
Whether he takes the spot occupied by veteran Brenden Morrow, who left practice early on Tuesday, or the one usually belonging to Joe Vitale, a healthy scratch in the third game of the series is an open question.
Jokinen, who is stronger on faceoffs than Vitale, would presumably see time on Pittburgh’s second power-play unit; the boost could help a man-advantage setup that was the best in the playoffs, but has converted on only one of its last 12 opportunities.