OTTAWA, Ontario -- Is it possible that the Ottawa Senators' hopes in Game 3, and indeed for the rest of the playoffs, rest on the outcome of the first five minutes of Sunday's game?
In some ways that's what it's come down to for Ottawa, down 2-0 to a Pittsburgh Penguins team that has won four straight and outscored the Senators 8-4 in winning the first two games of this second-round series.
In Game 1, Paul Martin got the Penguins off to a great start with a power-play goal just 2:41 into the series. In Game 2, it was Sidney Crosby scoring 3:16 into the game on a sparkling individual effort.
As Ottawa head coach Paul MacLean has reiterated several times in this series, catch-up hockey is losing hockey.
"We need to get off to a better start," Senators center Kyle Turris noted in what is perhaps the understatement of understatements.
He and his teammates said it was obvious that the Penguins, who usually start with Crosby's line on the ice in the hopes of getting a quick start, fed off the home crowd.
With Game 3 set for Scotiabank Place on Sunday night, Turris said they are hoping to use the same emotional boost to turn the tables on the Penguins.
Getting the puck deep and not turning the puck over in the neutral zone early will be the strategy for the Senators, especially in the critical early moments in Game 3.
"Two- or three-goal lead would be nice, if you could guarantee that," MacLean joked Sunday morning.
The key, MacLean said, is for the Senators not to play in their own zone, as was the case early in Games 1 and 2.
"The biggest thing for us is not to spend too much time in our own zone," the coach said. "We want to make sure we get the puck and get it out of our zone quicker."
The Senators are 2-0 on home ice, having won both home games against Montreal in the first round, outscoring the Canadiens 9-3.
"It's going to be an exciting time; it's May Two-Four weekend. Obviously everyone, if they're not camping, they're probably going to be watching hockey," said forward Colin Greening, referring to the Canadian long weekend that celebrates the birth of Queen Victoria every May but is colloquially known as May Two-Four weekend. "It's an exciting time here in Ottawa. We want to do what Pittsburgh did in their home ice, and we want to feed off the energy, and I'll think the first five minutes will be indicative of that."
Two days later, Greening was still talking about his near miss on a terrific short-handed effort in Game 2 that could have altered the outcome of a game the Sens would go on to lose 4-3. Greening was denied on a break by netminder Tomas Vokoun, then crashed spectacularly into the side of the net and the post.
"He made a great save on me, and in all honesty I was hoping I could slow up a little bit more. But unfortunately me and the net had a war, and I lost the war," Greening said Sunday morning.
Of course, the main storyline heading into Game 3 continued to be the return of top center Jason Spezza to the lineup. If he's at all effective it should allow MacLean to get better matchups with his other centers, especially Turris, who has four goals in these playoffs, including one in Game 2.
Spezza "always gets their best matchups," Turris said, acknowledging he will have to try to take advantage of perhaps more advantageous matchups for his line.
Spezza admitted he was expecting to have some pregame jitters as he prepared to return to action after suffering a back injury five games into the regular season that kept him out of action until Sunday night.
"Not yet; I think I will around game time," Spezza said. "If you don't get nerves you probably lose your edge a little bit, so I'm excited to play again. So definitely it'll be exciting before the game.
"This isn't coming back in Game 40 of the regular season; it's Game 3 in a must-win situation, so expectations are that I'm just going to be real excited and play real well and hopefully bring some enthusiasm to the squad, but where that leads me we'll find out," he said.
It looks as though Spezza will play with rookie Cory Conacher and oftentimes winger Milan Michalek, who is struggling with injury issues of his own and has just one goal and one assist in the playoffs.
"Sometimes when you get one guy back, you get two guys back," MacLean said.