Time for a hockey cliché adjustment.
Turns out there's nothing worse than a three-goal lead.
At least not if you're the Ottawa Senators and happen to be playing the Montreal Canadiens.
For the second time in less than two months – the first time critical, this time comical – the Senators blew a three-goal lead over Montreal and, Friday night at the Canadian Tire Centre, fell 7-4 to the Canadiens in front of a sellout crowd of 19,241.
"I'm numb," said Ottawa head coach Paul MacLean when the debacle was over.
"We came out and played and get a lead 3-0 – and then we stopped playing."
The Canadiens scored five straight goals on 13 shots at one point, including two goals in the second period on two real shots and a phantom shot the scoreboard mercifully offered up.
In an opening period that defied both coaching and description, the Senators raced off to a 3-0 lead before the game was six minutes old. Zack Smith scored on a Chris Phillips rebound by slipping the puck between the pads of Montreal backup goaltender Peter Budaj, then Ales Hemsky put a Patrick Wiercioch rebound through Budaj's five-hole, and then Smith again, with his 13th of the season, off a nice cross-crease pass from Mika Zibanejad.
The rout was on. Or so it seemed.
But the Montreal players felt otherwise.
"We still had confidence that we could do it," said Max Pacioretty, first star of the game with three goals.
"It just shows you, like our last game against them, you're never down and out."
The Canadiens began their comeback on a terrible goal, when Montreal defenceman Andrei Markov found himself deep in the Ottawa end and, from behind the icing line, ticked a shot in past Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson.
Another Montreal defender, Mike Weaver, then scored off a long shot that eluded Anderson.
At that point of the game, 11 shots had been taken – eight by Ottawa and three by Montreal – and five goals had been scored.
However, Ottawa and Montreal fans, the sellout crowd of 19,241 split roughly evenly at the Canadian Tire Centre, weren't about to celebrate (Senators fans) or give up (Montreal fans).
They had both seen this movie before.
Max Pacioretty tied the match at 3-3 on a "ball-hockey" play when Thomas Vanek lofted a high pass that bounced past Ottawa defender Eric Gryba and Pacioretty was able to move in on Anderson and beat him on the backhand.
It was a period of pond hockey, beer-league hockey, mini-sticks hockey – but most assuredly not NHL hockey.
The second period was all Ottawa Senators – everywhere but on the scoreboard.
Kyle Turris hit the crossbar, Jason Spezza had three chops at a puck that simply refused to grab enough air to make it over Budaj's right pad and Chris Neil had a goal called back on incidental contact with the goaltender.
Montreal, on the other hand, was hardly engaged in the period, throwing the puck three times in Anderson's general direction – one of them a clearing shot that did not deserve counting – and scored on both real chances. First Lars Eller scored when a puck bounced near him at the crease, then Pacioretty scored easily when he stole a puck and broke in alone on Anderson. It was Pacioretty's 37th goal of a very productive season.
Pacioretty's 38th came early in the third period on a quick snapshot off a nice pass from David Desharnais.
Pacioretty's 38 came early in the third period on a quick snapshot off a nice pass from David Desharnais.
"We lost control of the game," said Ottawa's Smith.
Desharnais moved it to 7-3 when left all alone in front of a helpless Anderson and Pacioretty fed him the puck. Mika Zibanejad brought it back to the dreaded three-goal lead late in the third when, falling down, he put a shot past Budaj.
"Losing sucks," said a disappointed Anderson, who faced only 23 shots compared to the 43 Ottawa aimed at Budaj.
"Brutal," added MacLean. "We're at home and we stopped playing."
This was the second time in a row that the Ottawa Senators had failed to hold a three-goal lead against the Canadiens.
The Ottawa Senators' season tailspin is dated from a March 15 meltdown at Montreal's Bell Centre that saw the Canadiens launch an improbable comeback at 16:38 of the third period, when they were already down 4-1.
Montreal scored twice in the dying minutes and then, with a mere 0.3 seconds left, Desharnais sent the game into overtime, which Montreal won 1:26 later when Francis Bouillon, of all people, scored his first goal of the season.
"We were pretty upset to be down by three goals with three minutes left," remembered Therrien on Friday. "And then, when we got that second goal, we started to believe that we had a chance."
They obviously felt the same way this night in Ottawa.
The Senators lost the next four in a row after that March 15 debacle and fell into a hole they could not climb out of, even if not yet technically eliminated from the postseason. It will take a miracle for Ottawa and total disaster for several other teams to get them there. It was Ottawa, hard to believe today, that took the Canadiens four games to one in the opening round of last year's Stanley Cup playoffs.
"We definitely felt this year that we owed them a little payback for last year," said Pacioretty.
The game pretty much summed up the Ottawa Senators' season, MacLean said when it was over.
"It anything can go wrong, it does."