Every group needs a cause to rally around, and the Ottawa Senators might have found theirs in Manhattan this past weekend.
It's not yet known whether their inspirational leader, captain Daniel Alfredsson, will be ready to go for Game 3 of their playoff series with the New York Rangers on Monday, but even if he isn't, the memory of seeing him crumpled as a result of a Rangers elbow is a galvanizing one.
"In the playoffs sometimes you look for things to rally around, and that was one of them," winger Nick Foligno said. "You don't want to see your captain go down, one of your best players. I think we all pulled together and wanted to win it for him and for each other. It may be a big moment for us."
The Senators came back to win Game 2 despite Alfredsson's absence.
One of the central memes in the Ottawa dressing room involves the team as a family, and in the game Saturday, the players say, the clan drew closer.
"The biggest rallying point is playing for the guy next to you and guy across from you," Senators tough guy Zenon Konopka said. "…The Carkner situation affected us, so did the Alfredsson situation, it goes on and on, deeper than that. [Forward]Erik Condra blocks a couple of big shots, you want to play for him as well. It's a team mentality."
Successful squads tend to channel a Band of Brothers, us-against-the-world vibe, and on Sunday the Senators were evidently feeling they are making strides in that direction.
Several players made a point of highlighting defenceman Matt Carkner's decision to seek two-fisted retribution from Brian Boyle, the 6-foot-7 New York forward who had "taken liberties" with Ottawa defenceman Erik Karlsson.
"When someone's taken advantage of, everyone understands that from their own family, you don't like it, it hurts you as a group, not just individuals," Konopka said. "You want to make sure everyone's above water and nobody's drowning."
(Carkner's frontier justice, however, cost him a start in Game 3. The NHL suspended him a game for the fight. The hit on Alfredsson was also punished, with perpetrator Carl Hagelin picking up a three-game suspension.)
No one will argue the Senators have more buoyancy without their captain, whose return for Game 3 hasn't been ruled out.
According to teammates, Alfredsson was in good spirits on Sunday, and showing few ill effects from the hit.
"He's still the same old happy guy, so hopefully, he's fine," Karlsson said. "We'll see how he feels tomorrow and it will probably be a game-time decision."
Coach Paul MacLean sounded a cautious tone, saying Alfredsson was "feeling pretty good" but adding he would nevertheless be re-evaluated by team doctors on Monday.
Though several Senators expressed their displeasure at the hit that took Alfredsson out of the game Saturday, MacLean said, "I don't have an opinion on it … it's playoff hockey."