OTTAWA – The Ottawa Senators are on the brink of advancing in the NHL playoffs, yet according to coach Paul MacLean they are fearful.
The Senators have a 3-1 lead over the archrival Canadiens heading into Game 5 Thursday night in Montreal. MacLean has done his best to deflect attention from his players during the emotional series, and Wednesday afternoon was no different.
MacLean is doing his best to make his team appear as the underdog.
"We're scared to death," said MacLean of Game 5. "I know I am. We know it's going to be really hard. Tomorrow is going to be a hard game and we have to make sure we're ready for that no matter what they have or who they play. It's going to be hard."
Last year, the Senators had a 3-2 series lead over the New York Rangers, but lost the next two games. They're hopeful they've grown from that experience.
"We're going to find out tomorrow if we learned any lessons," MacLean said. "We can talk about it, speak about it and address it, but it's actually done on the ice when the puck drops. That's when we'll find out for sure."
The Senators have a 7-0 record when leading a series 3-1, but the last time the Senators won three straight playoff games was 2007 Only four players — Daniel Alfredsson, Chris Phillips, Jason Spezza and Chris Neil — remain from that team.
Neil believes the team should be more than able to handle the pressure, with veteran leadership and the experience a number of its younger players earned in Binghamton when they won the Calder Cup in 2011.
"It's getting a taste of winning and some of our young guys got that and. And for some of the older guys they have felt the bitterness of losing," Neil said. "Whenever you have a team on the ropes you've got to be able to put them down and that's our mindset. We just have to play the game of games."
The Senators know they can't afford to wait until the last ten minutes to take control as they did in Game 4, where they scored two late goals in regulation before winning in overtime. The Canadiens had been the better team for much of the game and, if not for a few breaks, the Senators could easily be heading to Montreal with the series tied.
But this has been a season of resilience for the Senators. Few gave the Senators any chance of reaching the playoffs after lengthy injuries to Spezza, star defenseman Erik Karlsson and starting goaltender Craig Anderson decimated the team in the regular season. But the depleted lineup found a way to keep winning, and from that players gained a sense of confidence in one another that is now reaping rewards.
It's why when trailing 2-0 heading into the third period the team still felt it had the ability to get back in Tuesday's game.
"It's nice to know that we can persevere in a game," said defenseman Eric Gryba. "We kind of laid an egg in the first half of the game or even arguably the first two periods, so to be able to come back and show the character that's in this locker room and battle back to win the game is really a testament to our leadership and the guys in this locker room."
The Senators could be facing a very different team in Montreal. Goaltender Carey Price is listed as day to day with a lower body injury, while Brandon Prust and Ryan White are out with upper body injuries. Captain Brian Gionta, who missed Game 2 and Game 4, will undergo surgery Friday for a torn bicep tendon and is done for the season.
Not that it has affected the confidence of P.K. Subban
"We can beat these guys. We're better," Subban said. "Guys are going to realize when we're coming out the gates and we're flying that we're the better team and there's still life in this series for us.
"But it takes the guys in this room to believe that."