“We could curl up and cry about it and go home,” the Sabres co-captain said Tuesday. “Or we could fight like dogs.”
Drury was clearly preparing for a tussle, energetic and determined in practice a day after a 1-0 loss to Ottawa that pushed the Sabres to the brink of elimination in the Eastern Conference finals.
Ottawa is up 3-0 in the best-of-seven series and hosts Game 4 on Wednesday, when it can earn its first trip to the Stanley Cup finals.
“There’s no other way to think about it,” Drury added. “We can’t save anything for Thursday or Friday or Saturday.”
Buffalo has been frustrated and stifled, looking nothing like the team that led the NHL with 53 regular-season wins and 308 goals.
The Sabres’ power play has been silenced, going 0-for-18. They squandered a two-goal lead in a 4-3 double-overtime loss in Game 2. And suddenly they can’t even score. Buffalo managed just 15 shots Monday, when they were shut out for the first time—regular season included—since a 4-0 loss to Carolina in Game 4 of last year’s East finals.
“I guess enough talk, it’s time to start playing,” Sabres defenseman Toni Lydman said. “Our focus is on the next game. That’s all it should be.”
The Senators have never been up 3-0 in their previous 16 playoff series, but they’re aware winning the next one won’t be easy.
“Obviously, it’s a good situation for us to be in, but I don’t think we can get overconfident,” said goaltender Ray Emery, who’s allowed nine goals in his last six games.
“I’m sure they’re not happy being in the situation that they’re in,” Emery said. “When your back’s against the wall, you’re a dangerous team. We have to be aware of that and not give them any life.”
The Senators are trying to become the third straight Canadian team to reach the Cup finals and the first to win the title since Montreal in 1993.
With an NHL-best 11-2 record this postseason, Ottawa has an opportunity to become only the sixth team—and first since Anaheim in 2003—to reach the finals in 14 games since the NHL expanded its playoff format in 1987, according to The Elias Sports Bureau. Of those previous five teams, only two—Edmonton in 1987 and ’88—have gone on to win the Cup.
For all Ottawa has going for it, coach Bryan Murray had a reminder Tuesday.
“Well, we’re not in the finals yet, we have to win another game,” he said.
Game 5, if necessary, shifts to Buffalo on Saturday. But history is against the Sabres, considering only two NHL teams—Toronto in 1942 and the New York Islanders in 1975—have ever won a series when down 3-0.
That hasn’t stopped coach Lindy Ruff from bringing up those two teams.
“Approximately, every 33 years something great happens in this league, and you know, we’re at about that 33-year range,” said Ruff. “So, we’ve told them we’re on the verge of greatness.”
Ruff also notes the Sabres did open the season by winning 10 straight games to match an NHL record, and won four straight four different times during the regular season.
Yet, the Sabres have never looked so unsettled and frustrated as they have during this series.
The Senators have clogged up the middle to contain the Sabres speed, and been strong blocking shots and eliminating second chances. On offense, the Senators continue to be led by their top line, Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley, who have combined to score 20 of the team’s 43 goals this postseason.
“It has been frustrating,” Drury said. “I don’t think a guy in here would argue about gripping the stick tighter or slamming doors or yelling at the refs. Yelling at each other is not going help us win. Everyone, hopefully, takes a deep breath and gets refocused.”