Senators challenged to regain momentum

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Ottawa Senator Wade Redden and New Jersey Devil Turner Stevenson crossed paths and legs, and now their Eastern Conference final is at a crossroads.

Redden, the Senators' indispensable defenseman, will make a decision Thursday if he is capable of playing in Game 3 of their deadlocked series. He wore a brace on his left knee during pregame skate, but didn't test it as in a game situation.

"I have to decide if I'm able to contribute and do what I can do, that's what we have to decide this afternoon," Redden said. "I don't' want to be in a position where I go back in an wreck (my knee)."

The betting in the Ottawa camp is the Senators will have to make due without the player who clocks the most ice time for them, helps quarterback their power play, and chips in on the penalty kill.

Will they miss him?

Would the Philadelphia Eagles miss Donovan McNabb?

Would F1 driver Michael Schumacher miss his steering wheel?

Redden's left knee was injured when he and Stevenson collided in the third period of Game 2. There doesn't appear to be any structural damage, said Redden, but he did not sound optimitstic about his chances of playing Thursday night.

"There's no tear," he said, "It's nothing serious. It's just a little tender and sore ... I'm confident I'm going to be back in this series before it's over."

Which doesn't sound like he will be back for Game 3.

If Redden can't play after more treatment Thursday, Shane Hnidy, who hasn't played since the first game of the postseason, will go into the lineup.

"If you are going to win the Stanley Cup, you are going to have adversity," said Devils veteran center Joe Nieuwendyk, who won the Cup with Calgary in 1989 and was the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP when the Dallas Stars won it in 1999. "You are going to have ups and downs, key guys going in and out. The good teams find a way to overcome it.

"Whether (Redden) plays or not is not going to change the way we approach Game 3."

But it could surely change the Senators' way.

The Senators will be forced to scramble at least two of their defensive combinations. The one to stay intact will likely be Zdeno Chara (who really needs to step up his game which to this point can charitably be described as mediocre) and Chris Phillips. Rookie Anton Volchenkov will likely move up to take Redden's place with Karel Rachunek, and Hnidy will take Volcheknov's place with Curtis Leschyshyn.

Without Redden, the Senators' challenge of trying to wrestle back the momentum of this series will be a little tougher.

"Wade Redden is obviously a big part of our team," said Leschyshyn. "Hopefully, he'll be able to play, but if he can't, we'll just have to adjust. We knew this wasn't going to be easy and you're going to have these kinds of situations along the way.

"If we don't have him, we're all just going to have to do a little more."

The Devils, who won Game 2 (4-1) to snap the Senators' streak of not allowing more than two goals in 11 straight games, return to the Continental Airlines Arena where they are unbeaten this postseason in six games.

"It doesn't feel like that," said Devils defenseman Scott Stevens. "We've had to scratch and claw in a lot of games and win them in the third period. It hasn't been like we've dominated at home."

The Devils regained home-ice advantage by earning a split in Ottawa, and everybody is quick to give them the advantage in the series now. Such is the nature of the playoffs, especially as the number of teams and wins required to reach the summit dwindle.

Too much importance is put on a win.

Too much importance is put on a loss.

There is no denying the Devils did some good things in Game 2, beating the Senators with the two qualities Senators coach Jacques Martin values most highly in his own team -- special teams and goaltending.

The Senators surely cannot endure another demoralizing night on the power play like they did in Game 2, blowing four man-advantage situations in the first 10 minutes of the game. It was a double-edged razor, an energy-sapping series of body blows to the Senators' confidence while at the same time inflating the confidence of the Devils.

The Senators have to move the puck quicker on their breakouts on the power play. The Devils used John Madden's speed to disrupt them up ice, much like the New York Islanders did against Ottawa in the first series. Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, a forward, plays the point on the power play and often goes back to retrieve the puck. He has shown himself to be vulnerable to pressure when trying to make that first pass. Without Redden, the Senators would miss another guy who is very good at handling that job.

"All we did was win a game," Devils coach Pat Burns said Wednesday. "That's all we did. We bounced back from a shaky start in Game 1 and we came back and won the game (Tuesday) night.

"This team that we are playing is much too good to think that we have an advantage now. I don't believe we do. I think as the series is going on, I said it is going to be a long series, and I still believe that."

It is now up to the Senators to respond.

They beat the Devils in Game 1 in overtime and Burns made a bold move, switching out his fifth and sixth defensemen for Game 2. Ken Daneyko and Oleg Tverdovsky were a combined minus-3 in Game 1. Replacements Tommy Albelin and Richard Smehlik were a combined plus-3 in Game 2 with Albelin scoring the Devils first goal.

Burns looks like a genius, right?

Martin will have to make a move for Game 3 if Redden can't play, but the Senators' real changes must come from within. It is a team game at this time of year, but individuals make the difference.

Check out this stat: Through two games in the series, Devils forward Jay Pandolfo is outscoring the Senators' high-octane group of right wingers -- Alfredsson, Marian Hossa and Martin Havlat -- 2-0. Pandolfo is plus-2 in the series so far; the Senators' wingers, minus-3.

That's not good enough. Those guys know it.

The truth is this: The Devils needed to change the players they were dressing.

The Senators need the players they are dressing to change.

Chris Stevenson of the Ottawa Sun is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.