Wow. I can breathe now. The Ottawa Senators got a lead, lost it, went down, fought back, and eventually won game five of the Eastern Conference Quarter-Finals 4-3 over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Both sides, and any unaffiliated spectators, will agree that the game was incredibly exciting: Plenty of shots, plenty of chances both ways, hitting all over the ice, and clean hockey--especially in overtime.
The Senators deserve a lot of credit for this win. Obviously, winning when facing elimination is always difficult. Within the game, though, there was plenty of adversity to deal with: Ottawa had five powerplays to Pittsburgh's eight. Pittsburgh scored a goal that was waved off and then overturned and called a good goal (more on that later), and had a goal of their own waved off. They had a 2-0 lead, and lost it--but fought back after a 3-2 deficit to tie the game. And no matter how much pressure the Penguins were exerting on Ottawa, the Senators kept to their structure, and eventually it worked out for Ottawa. Game six, Saturday, in Ottawa. Still one loss away from elimination, but a lot closer to moving on than they were yesterday.
Sens Legend: Pascal Leclaire
Heroic. Legendary. Before tonight, Leclaire had one win in 2010. It was a desperate move, and just about everyone in Ottawa was calling it a last-ditch effort that was doomed for failure. But it wasn't. As hard as Ottawa's whole team worked tonight, Leclaire is the reason for the win. Fifty-six saves barely even comes close to describing it, because these weren't just simple shots. Plenty of second chances, deflections, shots through screens, and assorted bona fide scoring chances, and Leclaire was up to the task. He stopped eight shots from each of Bill Guerin and Jordan Staal. Seven off eight off the stick of Sidney Crosby. All six from Evgeni Malkin. It will go down in Ottawa Senators history as one of, if not the, greatest playoff goaltending performances. And I'm being careful to avoid exaggerating it.
Sens Heroes: Everyone, but particularly the following players:
- Matt Carkner: Do I have to explain? Okay, I will. Carkner was just solid for most of the game, as he has been all series. He amped it up physically, throwing a few good hits, but he did something few Senators have ever done: Scored a playoff overtime goal. He's the eleventh person to join that exclusive club.
- Peter Regin: Regin's had an amazing series; it's been his coming out party. Tonight, he ripped home the game-tying goal and played over 30 minutes. But what set him apart was how hard he fought, through a few hugely punishing bodychecks, to keep fighting for the puck and trying to make plays.
- Nick Foligno: Foligno was okay in regulation. Foligno was heroic in overtime. It's a good thing, too, because as the team's veteran players started to slow down, Foligno got his game going. Finished with an assist, two shots, and four hits, but like Regin, his willingness to battle served the Senators well.
- Anton Volchenkov: Unbelievable monster performance. He was -1 maybe, but Android had 11 blocked shots on the night and threw four hits. I can't even imagine how black and blue his ankles, legs, and even wrists must be right now. Amazing performance.
- Erik Karlsson: Want to know who had the most ice time for Ottawa, second-most in the game? Yeah, Karlsson. He made his mistakes, most glaringly on Pittsburgh's third goal, but all around he had a solid game. Finished with 40:38 TOI, four shots, and two assists. Surprisingly, also had five blocked shots (second-highest on the team) and two hits--it continues to impress me how well Karlsson, despite his size, can angle opposing forwards into the boards and hit them off the puck.
- Mike Fisher: Was a beast all game. He became especially beastly late in the second, after Pittsburgh tied the game. Finished with a goal, assisted on the overtime winner, and had a game-high ten hits--many of the big variety.
- Daniel Alfredsson: I wasn't going to give it to Alfie. It sure looks like he's struggling, and he's almost certainly injured. But look at the numbers: Played over 38 minutes, blocked four shots, threw two hits, and assisted on the overtime winner. How can I keep him from Hero stature?
Noticeably absent: Jason Spezza
The Spezz Dispenser had two assists tonight, but still has room for improvement. Which seems like an absurd statement, but I think it's true. Commendations for going 57% in the faceoff circle and firing five shots, but he should probably have had twice that many shots if he didn't try to make an extra move on so many one-on-twos.
When a game goes to triple overtime, no one is a zero. There can't be passengers. Could some players have played better? Absolutely. But everyone had to be on board tonight, and everyone was.
Sens Killer: Marc-Andre Fleury
The guy played a stellar game, especially in overtime. Stopped 40 of 44 shots, including some really good scoring chances, and was good. Still, was only the second-best goaltender on the ice tonight. Wasn't even the best French-Canadian former first-round draft pick goaltender on the ice tonight.
Sens Killer: Sidney Crosby
Yes, again. A goal (the go-ahead goal, thanks to sheer determination again), 8 shots on goal, 59% on faceoffs, 37:43 TOI. He was good, but Ottawa defence was slightly more effective tonight at shutting him down. And that's among the reasons the Senators were able to steal this victory away from Pittsburgh.
First off, the game--at 107:06 game time--set a new franchise record for the longest game in Ottawa Senators history, just a few minutes longer than previous record (set on May 4, 2002, clocking in at 104:30). Secondly, Leclaire set a record for most saves in a playoff game with his 56 saves--seven more than Martin Gerber had on April 11, 2008 (although Gerber put his saves together in only 60 minutes).
Sore Spot: Pittsburgh's second goal
Should not have counted. No, I don't think it's part of a league-wide conspiracy. And yes, I understand the rule about a net being considered in place even if only a portion of the post-peg remains in place. The problem lies in the fact that the referee thought the net was off, and in the process thought the play was dead, and should be blown down. According to rule 78.5.xii:
"When the Referee deems the play has been stopped, even if he had not physically had the opportunity to stop play by blowing his whistle."
Therefore, because it was a (admittedly faulty) discretionary call on the referees, the call on the ice should have stood, and the goal should not have counted. For argument's sake, let's take a common example: The referee thinks the goaltender has covered the puck. Whether or not the goaltender has or has not covered it is irrelevant; the referee thought he had, and so the play is blown dead. But hey, it's all water under the bridge now, because the Senators won!
Save Chum update:
Shean Donovan played 4:59 TOI tonight, not seeing the ice after the second period. Tough, but the team won; still, you've got to think he would have been useful for at least some shifts as the game went so far into overtime. Can't argue with results, though.
Look at this crazy mofo...