The Ottawa Senators had a new twist to their scoreboard presentation before their critical 4-2 Game 3 loss to the opportunistic Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday evening.
They broadcast on the scoreboard a taped message from Rick Mercer to get the 20,119 Senators supporters at Scotiabank Place in the mood. The CBC funny man, sitting at a news desk, said, "Let's hear it for the team from Ontario that doesn't suck. Go Sens go."
While the bit was amusing and it's always an easy laugh to poke fun at the sad-sack Toronto Maple Leafs down the highway, if the Senators don't get their act together soon they will join their provincial rivals on the sidelines.
Without injured forwards Milan Michalek and Alexei Kovalev, and with captain Daniel Alfredsson mired in a playoff slump, the Senators' offence sputtered against the Penguins.
The defending Stanley Cup champions lead the series 2-1 with Game 4 set for Scotiabank Place on Tuesday.
The Senators have scored only three goals in the past two games and didn't generate many chances in Game 3 as the Penguins outshot their frustrated opponents 24-22.
"We didn’t have that many chances," Ottawa goalie Brian Elliott said. "We have to generate more. They did a good job blocking shots and we have to match their intensity."
Elliott didn’t help his own cause with the softy he surrendered on the game’s second shift from ex-Leafs forward Alexei Ponikarovsky, who is playing in his first playoffs since 2003-04 when the Leafs surprised the Senators in the first round.
"You always want to be better," Elliott said.
Alfredsson refused to toss his young goaltender under the bus. He rightly pointed out that Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury allowed a stinker in Game 2 and the Penguins battled back to win the game 2-1.
Alfredsson is not exactly in a position to cast stones. The usually reliable playoff performer has yet to score in three games in the series after checking in with 43 in his previous 101 post-season contests.
"We’re all in this together," Alfredsson said. "There are a lot of things we need to do better as a team. We’ll bounce back."
Alfredsson attempted to lead the Senators physically. But he was temporarily knocked out of the game midway through the second period after absorbing a hit from Sidney Crosby. "I just wanted a pep talk to keep my head up," was his explanation for briefly leaving the game.
The Senators captain also got nailed for a kneeing penalty on Pittsburgh defenceman Brooks Orpik midway through the third period. He justified that infraction by saying he was trying to throw a hip check.
After Ponikarovsky put the Penguins on the board, the Senators thought they had the tying goal in the final minute of the opening period. But Peter Regin clearly kicked the puck off his right skate and didn't touch the puck with his stick before it slipped through the pads of Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
Regin thought it was a good goal, but conceded that the NHL war room back in Toronto doesn't get many reviews wrong.
Ottawa forward Mike Fisher converted a pass from the rookie Regin on the power play early in the second period. But that only provided a wakeup call for the Penguins to flick the switch on their game.
On both Evgeni Malkin’s go-ahead goal in the second period and Bill Guerin's breakaway goal to make it 4-1 early in the third period, Pittsburgh scored moments after the Senators missed good scoring chances at the other end.
"They’re opportunistic," Fisher said. "They take advantage of every opportunity they get."
Penguins captain Crosby showed tremendous patience to out-wait Elliott for his team's third goal with 44.4 ticks left on the clock in the second period.
Crosby assisted on Guerin's goal in the third, giving him seven points in three playoff games.
Ottawa's Matt Cullen made the score closer with a power-play goal with 7:02 remaining.
The Senators tried to amp up their physical game, but their exuberance didn't have much of an effect on the Penguins and cost them undisciplined penalties from Chris Neil (twice), Chris Campoli and rookie Erik Karlsson.