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OTTAWA (AP) -Anaheim Ducks forward Samuel Pahlsson was born in Sweden, plays with the edge of an Alberta farm kid and has the Ottawa Senators on their heels.
And the only one shocked by the sudden acclaim he's receiving is Pahlsson himself.
"I don't think my season has been very different from before," he said following practice Friday. "It's just people started talking and it just keeps going."
In large part because of Pahlsson's solid defensive play and clutch goal-scoring, the Ducks are up 2-0 in the Stanley Cup finals with a chance to put a stranglehold on the best-of-seven series when it resumes Saturday at Ottawa.
The Senators are well aware of how the Pahlsson-led checking line has contained them, but confident they'll turn things around, hosting their first playoff game in 17 days and Ottawa's first Cup final game in 80 years.
"They're doing a good job of neutralizing us right now," forward Jason Spezza said. "But we're not playing as well as we can."
Not even close.
The Senators have been outhit, outshot 63-36, haven't produced an even-strength goal and look nothing like the high-flying, confident team that lost only three games through the first three rounds.
Spezza's line has been particularly stymied, combining for just 11 shots and registering two assists after producing 23 of 48 goals in the first three rounds. Worse still, they're not getting nearly enough production from their second and third lines.
"We've got to realize the situation we're in and we've got to be desperate," second-line center Mike Fisher said. "We can't hang our heads and loll around about being down 2-0. We've just got to do something about it."
Pahlsson and linemates Rob Niedermayer and Travis Moen have had a large role in putting the Senators in a hole. Besides playing a near-perfect defensive game, the line's produced both decisive goals, including Pahlsson's score in a 1-0 win in Game 2 on Wednesday.
Two of Pahlsson's three goals this postseason have been game-winners, and his 11 points in 18 games match the number he had in his previous 37 playoff appearances.
Ducks general manager Brian Burke paid Pahlsson the ultimate compliment for a European-born player.
"He thinks he's from Red Deer," said Burke, making the point that Pahlsson plays with the edge of a Canadian prairie farm kid.
Pahlsson might never have been to Red Deer or be able to find the central Alberta town on a map, but he certainly gets the drift.
"Yeah, I've heard it a lot of times," Pahlsson said. "I guess it's a good thing. I kind of know what he means."
It means that the fifth-year NHL veteran has arrived as a key contributor. He's already a finalist for the Frank J. Selke Trophy, awarded to the NHL's top defensive forward in the regular season, and now there's talk of Pahlsson emerging as a playoff MVP contender.
"I wouldn't think about it," Pahlsson said. "It's all about winning two more games for us, and nothing else matters."
Two more wins and the Ducks would become the first West Coast team to win the Cup since British Columbia's Victoria Cougars of the Western Canada Hockey League won in 1925.
The Senators' chances of returning the Cup to Canada for the first time since Montreal won in 1993 rest on whether they can get a boost at home.
"We feel we can be a lot better, and I feel playing at home is going to bring that out of us," captain Daniel Alfredsson said. "We fought a lot of adversity throughout the year, and I think the way we responded makes me comfortable going into (Game 3)."
The Senators dropped four of their first six games in the regular season and were 7-11-1 before a spurt in which they won eight of nine. Their two losses to Anaheim marked the first time they've lost consecutive games in regulation since late December.
This kind of trouble is a whole different issue, though.
"There's always adversities through every series," Alfredsson said. "Our approach now is Game 3. That's the biggest game of the year for us.
"Everybody has got to go out there and play their best. Don't look too far ahead, don't look at what's happening in the previous rounds or games."
The Ducks are attempting to stay in the present, too.
"You can't get caught up. It's only Game 3," defenseman Chris Pronger said. "To start looking too far ahead, that's when you get into trouble. You've got to worry about the task at hand, that's Game 3 and coming out prepared and focused."
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