Senators use defensive pressure to close in on Stanley Cup

By PA SportsTicker

Defense has normally taken a backseat for the Ottawa Senators. It now has them one win away from their first trip to the Stanley Cup Finals.

For much of the season, the Senators have been led by the high-scoring trio of Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson en route to finishing with their fourth consecutive season with more than 100 points (48-25-9).

Ottawa, however, has turned up the defensive pressure in the postseason, culminating with Monday’s 1-0 victory over the Buffalo Sabres in Game Three of the Eastern Conference finals.

Despite being the top scoring team in the regular season, the top-seeded Sabres were limited to just 15 shots as Ray Emery recording his third shutout of the playoffs for Ottawa.

It was the fifth time in the last six games that the Senators have held opponents to two goals or less.

“I think our guys have really made a huge commitment the latter part of the year and certainly in the playoffs to playing hard to the puck and finishing their checks as often as they can,” Ottawa coach Bryan Murray said. “They’ve done a good job of taking responsibility in both areas, and it certainly was a very, very good defensive effort (on Monday).”

The Sabres, meanwhile, were shut out for the first time in 99 games, dating to a 4-0 setback against the Carolina Hurricanes in Game Four of last season’s Eastern Conference finals.

Monday’s effort also gave the Senators a nearly insurmountable three-games-to-none lead in the series, closing within a victory of the Stanley Cup Finals for the second time in franchise history.

The first occurred in 2003, when Ottawa needed to win two straight games to force a ill-fated Game Seven against the New Jersey Devils, the eventual champions.

This time, the Senators will have four chances to secure a meeting with the Western Conference’s best team, a lead that has only been overcome twice in the history of the NHL.

The last team to rally from that deficit was the 1975 New York Islanders, a fact that is clearly in the minds of Buffalo, which showed the ability to string together wins during the regular season.

If the Sabres are going to make the series interesting they will have to figure out their struggles on the power play, coming up empty on all 18 of their man-advantage chances so far.

“I think if you look at it, Ottawa has done a tremendous job of killing (power plays),” Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said. “They’re a good killing team. Lot of puck pressure.”

“Pressure I think is the biggest thing,” Alfredsson said. “Don’t give the power play a lot of time and especially if you know it’s second half of the period, the ice is not as good, you really want them to force things, force them to make plays.”

If the Sabres can figure things out, there is a very good chance that they could go on a tear.

Buffalo ripped off wins in its first 10 games of the season and put together three other winning streaks of four games en route to posting a 53-22-7 record in the regular season to collect its first Presidents’ Trophy.

“You got to remain positive,” Ruff said. “You have to go back to situations during the year, and I think we had situations during the year where we were able to put together some tremendous streaks, and we have to put one together now.”

The Sabres lost three straight games on three different occasions this season before going on to win the fourth.

Buffalo has not been swept in a postseason series since being victimized by the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference semifinals in 1993.

Game Four is in Ottawa on Wednesday.

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Updated Tuesday, May 15, 2007