Darren Eliot
Tuesday April 20th, 2010

OTTAWA -- I'm here covering the Penguins-Senators series on Versus, but my proximity confirms my view from a distance: the Penguins appear as if they have established the level at which they will operate for here on out and it is up to the Senators to match. The difficulty is that the Senators are hard pressed to play at such a high level for long enough stretches, especially without Milan Michalek, Alex Kovalev and Filip Kuba. That means they are trying to upend the defending Stanley Cup champs while missing a major slice of veteran know-how and skill.

For the Penguins, Sidney Crosby has dominated the series, and if not for a wobbly Game 1 performance by goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, they could be up 3-0 in the series. Their focus is to continue to "get to their game" as coach Dan Bylsma preaches. As Crosby puts it, "We know what our game looks like on the ice when we're playing like we're supposed to."

The Senators have played their game pretty well throughout the first three games, except that their stars, Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza, have squandered the precious few quality chances they've generated.

Coach Cory Clouston acknowledged that his team needs more from the duo, but stressed it isn't "those two against Crosby and [Evgeni] Malkin. We have to win with our team game. Our goaltender Brian Elliott has been inconsistent and we knew coming in that we would have a tough time winning without excellent goaltending."

Clouston also acknowledged that "changes are possible", with Jonathan Cheechoo and Shean Donovan as veteran fourth line replacements. That's where this series stands heading into the pivotal Game 4: the Penguins stars leading the way and the Senators grasping with all they have left.

The Senators may only be down 2-1, but their chances in the series look grim no matter your vantage point. The booing home crowd at the conclusion of Game 3 is testament to that.

As an e-mailer pointed out to me, the Sharks trail the Avalanche despite dominating territorially and having the last touch of the puck in all three games. That's crazy. But the Sharks get Dany Heatley back tonight, although he, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau have yet to score. Obviously, that has to change...

The Coyotes are challenging the Red Wings in an in-your-face manner seldom seen against Detroit during the past decade. The other variable has been the play of rookie netminder Jimmy Howard. Veteran Chris Osgood has been a mentor and supporter since Howard took over the top spot in mid-November, and needs to help the rookie bounce back after letting in a couple of questionable goals on home ice as the Coyotes forged ahead 2-1 in the series. The Hockeytown faithful let Howard hear their displeasure. If anyone knows about bouncing back after a tough outing in Detroit, it is Osgood. He has made a career of it...

Also in need of a strong return to form is Roberto Luongo, who ended up on the bench in Game 3 as the Kings beat the Canucks captain four times on 16 shots. Luongo got the hook a whopping eight times this season, which does not include his last start in Los Angeles when coach Alain Vigneault left him in for all eight goals against...

The Capitals won in convincing fashion in Montreal to take a 2-1 series lead. On display was the reason why they are truly built for the postseason: their depth and size up front. Goals by Brooks Laich, Boyd Gordon and particularly Eric Fehr and Matt Bradley demonstrate that Washington is much more than the Ovechkin, Backstrom, Semin and Green show.

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