If anyone wants to know how either of these teams will respond to the intensity of the playoffs, look no further than Friday night's game. The Buffalo Sabres and Ottawa Senators were dripping in playoff intensity by the time the game ended, with a 4-2 Sens victory. Brian Elliott and Ryan Miller went save-for-save; although Elliott made more, Miller made plenty of his own. Both teams were dialed up physically, and Mike Fisher's intensity boiled over when he hit Patrick Kaleta from behind into the end boards and was consequently given a five-minute major and a game misconduct. (But don't expect further discipline, there were plenty of questions about the legitimacy of Kaleta's fall.) Ottawa killed off that penalty, though, along with the other three they were given, and scored a powerplay goal en route to their win. It was intense, nerve-wracking, exciting, and just an all-around awesome game--especially with the two points the Sens earned.
Sens heroes: Brian Elliott, Matt Cullen, Daniel Alfredsson, Anton Volchenkov, the third line
Once again, Elliott was outstanding. The Sabres fired 43 shots at him, including plenty of great chances, and Elliott was there to stop 41 of them. He was especially strong in the first period, when Buffalo came out strong and fired 17 shots at Ells. Although his shutout streak was stopped just short of a franchise record (thanks, Gord Miller), he's strung together three straight unbelievable performances.
Cullen was probably the team's best skater tonight, which is surprising given that he was -2 on the night. Still, he stepped up when Fisher was kicked out, and his four shots were tied for the team-lead with Chris Kelly. He was skating, and working at both ends of the ice, looking very much like the player Bryan Murray was looking for when he acquired him.
Alfredsson's dominance of the Buffalo Sabres continued in Friday's game. He assisted on Jason Spezza's game-winning goal, and also got credit for a goal that he didn't really score--he was hauled down while on a breakaway with the empty net. He had a sick dangle to split the Buffalo defence that was stopped by Miller, but seemed to be recharged by the opportunity to play against the Sabres.
You've got to give credit to Volchenkov for blocking a shot with his face. His face. It was apparently one of only two shot-blocks he had on the night, but he was also a big part of the Sens' penalty kill (5:13 TOI short-handed) and was particularly strong during the long (albeit interrupted) five minutes assessed to Fisher.
Tonight's game, though, started and finished with the Senators' third line. Started, because Kelly scored the game's first goal with a great play, and ended because he along with Chris Neil and Jarkko Ruutu outplayed their opposition whenever they stepped on the ice. Neil was perhaps the quietest of the three, and he finished with four hits on the night, plus an assist on Kelly's goal. The other two were strong whenever on the ice, particularly when they were a penalty-killing duo. Ruutu finished the night with two assists, and I continue to be amazed that people consider Ruutu to be little more than a one-dimensional pest. Sure, he’s among the league’s best pests, but in my mind that’s secondary to the solid two-way game he plays—I’d wager that he’s his defensively responsible self more often than he is that pesty guy who (allegedly) bites opponents.
Leadership seminar: Jason Spezza
I probably should have given Spezza a Sens hero, but whatever, I'll just commend him for continuing to step up and lead the Senators when they need him to. He tipped in the game-winner, and made an absolutely sick pass for Peter Regin's goal, not to mention some very impressive stickhandling late in the game. He's definitely stepping up his game, and at just the right time.
Sens zeros: None
I can't really think of any Sens zeros, to be honest. Ryan Shannon struggled in his shot to earn a roster spot back, but wasn't 'zeroic' by any means. Erik Karlsson struggled at times, and deflected a puck into his own net because he was a little less than assertive in front of Elliott, but he also had some great plays--including teeing up Alfredsson to shoot what would end up as the game-winner.
Sens killers: Ryan Miller, Patrick Kaleta
He allowed three goals, but Miller made plenty of great saves, too--none better than his point-blank stoning of Karlsson in the second period. The rookie got the puck in front of the opposition net (yeah, he was pinching a lot) with Miller down and out, or so he thought; Miller reached back and stopped Karlsson's shot with his stick.
Kaleta's a killer because he's so freakin' annoying. The only thing he really did was sell a hit from behind by Fisher; don't get me wrong, it was a dangerous play and deserving of a penalty, but I'm not sure it was as bad as it looked. He also took down Z. Smith in a fight, but give credit to Z. for standing in there and looking alright in his second NHL fight.
Lunchpail kid: Z. Smith
This kid just keeps proving he deserves to stay in the NHL, doesn't he? He played 9:30 TOI tonight, and did not look out of place for one second of it.