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Day after epic collapse, Senators fall to Avalanche

Ottawa Senator goaltender Robin Lehner(40) looks on as Colorado Avalanche's Andre Benoit (61) celebrates his goal with teammate Maxime Talbot (25) during second period NHL action in Ottawa, Sunday March 16, 2014.


Well, if there's to be no Stanley Cup parade, you may as well have one for St. Patrick's Day.

The Ottawa Senators went all Irish theme Sunday evening less than 24 hours after a catastrophic meltdown in Montreal that saw them take a 4-1 lead over the Canadiens into the final four minutes of the game – and somehow managed to lose 5-4 in overtime.

Back home and playing the visiting Colorado Avalanche, the Senators unveiled a green team logo on the scoreboard, broadcast pounding Irish fighting songs – and prayed hard for a little luck in that never came their way as they lost 3-1.

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They certainly played better than they had the night before in Montreal, but both games were lost at a time when only wins will do. As the old Irish proverb goes, "Put silk on a goat and it's still a goat."

With 15 games remaining, Ottawa remains stuck in 12th place in the east, with three teams – New Jersey Devils, Detroit Red Wings and Washington Capitals – and seven points between them and the New York Rangers, who currently hold down the final playoff spot and who will meet the Senators here on Tuesday.

"Big weekend for us," said a dejected Ottawa captain Jason Spezza, "and we lose both games.

"It's unacceptable."

Ottawa head coach Paul MacLean had hoped his team would respond to the Montreal humiliation with a spirited effort and, in parts of the second period and late in the third, when Ottawa's Mika Zibanejad finally blasted a puck past Colorado goaltender Semyon Varlamov, MacLean got a bit of what he had hoped he would see from his charges.

With only six seconds left, however, it was too little too late.

"The response to the [Montreal] game was positive," MacLean said. "At the end of the day, we didn't do it.

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"We need wins right now, not moral victories."

MacLean was particularly disappointed in the shooting accuracy of his players. Ottawa outshot the Avalanche 39-22 and MacLean counted 18 Ottawa opportunities that missed the Colorado net. Those that didn't, all but one, were quickly dealt with by the athletic Varlamov.

The Avalanche scored in the second period off a lovely tic-tac-toe passing play among Matt Duchene, Patrick Bordeleau and defenceman Andre Benoit, leaving Benoit – only last year a popular Senator – perfectly positioned to fire the puck past Ottawa goaltender Robin Lehner.

"It's always nice to score," said Benoit, of nearby St. Albert. Particularly nice when the stands were packed with so many family and friends.

"I'm just glad I didn't have to pay for them."

Colorado scored early in the third on the power play, when defenceman Nick Holden found himself standing at the edge of a crease when a puck came to him from the corner. All he had to do was tap it in past Lehner on the backhand.

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With only three minutes remaining, John Mitchell scored on a nice set up from Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog, 2012 NHL rookie of the year and Nathan MacKinnon, widely considered a lock to be NHL rookie of the year for this season.

The Senators had no answer for the powerful Colorado team and its rookie coach Patrick Roy. The Avalanche have been the surprise of the west under Roy, rising to 4th place with an impressive 93 points.

"We're all buying into what he's been preaching," said Benoit of his new coach.

As for the Senators, they may as well have turned to some good old Irish curses – "May you get the runs on your wedding night," "May the cat eat you and may the devil eat the cat" – for all the good their skating and checking did this night against the Avalanche.

"I wish I had some answers," Ottawa defenceman Marc Methot said.

So, too, do Ottawa fans, frustrated by the uneven, inconsistent performance this year by a team that, despite missing its best players to injury, made it into the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs only a year ago. Unless something unforeseen, and virtually unbelievable, happens over the remaining 15 games, there will be no post-season for Ottawa.

"I don't see any reason to give up on the year," said Methot. "Crazy things have been done in this league."

"The big picture's not looking good right now," Spezza added. "I don't think there's a switch you can pull to make the playoffs.

"But we're not going to throw in the towel now."

Sounds a bit like the opening verse of an Irish fighting song.

Follow me on Twitter: @RoyMacG

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