Ottawa Senators head coach Paul MacLean likes to say, half jokingly, that he's terrified of the next opponent.
"All I know is I'm scared to death no matter who we're playing," he said once again, this time with some justification, prior to Saturday's match against the Pittsburgh Penguins, which shortly thereafter became Ottawa's fifth loss in a row.
Then MacLean added a telling twist: "And sometimes I'm scared to death of who I'm playing."
So he might well be these days, as the Senators have slipped, slipped, slipped in recent weeks, taking a non-playoff-bound 10-11-5 record into Sunday's match against the Vancouver Canucks.
That record now improves by a much needed two points after MacLean's up-and-down charges rose up once again and claimed a come-from-behind 4-3 victory in overtime before a once-again cheering crowd of 16,870.
The victory came 1:21 into overtime when Ottawa captain Erik Karlsson finished off a Senators rush with his seventh goal of the year.
The Canucks themselves had come into Ottawa with slight slippage, having fallen 5-2 Saturday night to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Prior to that, however, the Canucks had won three straight and are the NHL's top road team – something that surely had to scare to death a few Senators and their coaches.
MacLean, the winner of the Jack Adams Trophy as the league's top coach in 2013, has lately been the subject of endless radio and Internet chatter in Ottawa, blamed for everything from the Senators' slippage to the lack of sand on icy backstreets.
There is talk, of course, of the Jack Adams Curse, the belief that being named top coach is shortly followed by being fired. Over the past 10 seasons, five winners have indeed been fired: John Tortorella (Tampa Bay Lightning and, last season, by these very Canucks), Lindy Ruff (Buffalo Sabres), Alain Vigneault (Canucks), Bruce Boudreau (Washington Capitals) and Dan Bylsma (Pittsburgh Penguins). Five remain: Claude Julien in Boston, Dave Tippet in Phoenix, Ken Hitchcock in St. Louis, Patrick Roy in Colorado – and MacLean in Ottawa.
MacLean's problems were on display early Sunday evening at the Canadian Tire Centre. So far, the consistent bright spot had been the play of goaltender Craig Anderson.
Yet six minutes into the game, Vancouver's Radek Vrbata came in, paused, and calmly deked Anderson so deftly it seemed Anderson had himself slipped on a slick backstreet.
A minute later, Vancouver went ahead 2-0 on a screened point shot from Kevin Bieksa that Anderson could not contain.
Anderson, obviously, was not solely at fault. He prevented the game from going to 3-0 on a splendid save off a Nicklas Jensen breakaway.
When Ottawa's Mark Stone had an even more open breakaway later in the opening period on Vancouver backup goaltender Eddie Lack, Stone could not manage to hit the net with his shot.
Early in the second period, Vancouver did go to 3-0 when Ottawa's Karlsson misplayed the puck and the Canucks were able to rush up ice, where Brad Richardson snapped a shot past Anderson on the far side – a shot that could not be counted as a good goal.
If it seemed over, it was not. Not at all.
Ottawa lucked into a two-man advantage on the power play and David Legwand, who had been honoured before the game for playing in his 1,000th NHL game, fired a rebound into the empty side of Lack's net.
Less than five minutes later, Ottawa's Mika Zibanejad rushed up the right wing and fired a hard shot that Lack blocked. Zibanejad was able to pick up his own rebound, circle behind the net and bounce the puck in off the skate of Vancouver defenceman Yannick Weber.
Zibanejad scored his second of the night, and seventh of the year, late in the second period when he picked up a Bobby Ryan rebound and danced around Lack, deftly sliding a backhand in behind the fallen Vancouver goaltender.
Given that the Senators had tied or held the lead now for six straight games with little or nothing to show for it, few expected the game to go to overtime, where Karlsson quickly settled matters.
For the Senators, it was a welcome return to the win column.
For MacLean, it was more than welcome, perhaps even a reprieve.
He can now turn his attention to Thursday's home match against the powerful Los Angeles Kings.
Who are, of course, already scaring him to death.