Let's get this out of the way: with today's win over the New York Islanders, the Senators have clinched a playoff berth. That's it--they're in, three years ahead of schedule. Melnyk must be spazzing like he just chugged a six-pack of Jolt! Cola. Seeding is all that remains to be determined. Celebrate here.
We now resume your regularly scheduled recap.
With Jason Spezza (fatherhood) and Daniel Alfredsson (flu) out of the lineup, it looked like earning a win wasn't going to be easy for the Ottawa Senators. Things weren't made easier by the sparse, energy-draining crowd of Nassau Veterans Library, whose disapproving silence from the first puck drop made it impossible to take them of the game.
With no energy to feed off of, the game began with a choppy start. Things took a turn for the worse when the Islanders scored first, with a John Tavares pass deflecting off of Mark Streit's skate past Craig Anderson. It was Tavares' 47th assist of the season. Tavares would also later hit the crossbar. He is good. But for all Tavares' skill, the Islanders failed to take control of the game after gaining their lead. In fact, they looked very much like a team playing out the string in this game. One wonders how they were able to beat the Penguins in back-to-back games. It certainly couldn't have been with effort like what the Senators faced tonight.
With no serious pressure, the Senators had no reason to panic despite the deficit. They played a calm game, and despite being outshot in the first period at one point by a margin of nine to four, largely due to, shall we say, interesting, penalties on Jared Cowen and thinly-veiled Sens Hero Milan Michalek, the Senators closed out the period tied on the scoreboard and leading in shots 13-9. The goal came via thinly-veiled Sens Hero Kyle Turris. If you'd like a description, skip ahead.
The Islanders had one more chance to make a game of it, and it came in the face of a shorthanded breakaway by Michael Grabner. Without much to shoot at thanks to Anderson, there was no goal, and the power play would convert right afterwards in a beautiful manner, as Sergei Gonchar was able to step into an unbelievable no-look backhand pass from Milan Michalek.
From there, the onslaught was on, as Michalek scored his 35th thanks to a pinballer of his own design. Nick Foligno got in on the fun as he dove for a loose puck sitting just outside of Islanders goalie Al Montoya's skate. Turris capped off the scoring with a power play goal, stealing credit from Chris Neil by trumping Neil's stick with his own at the last possible second. What a jerk.
The Senators came into this game knowing they controlled their own fate. For me, one of the marks of a playoff team is beating the teams you should beat. The Senators took control of their own fate and beat an opponent they should have beaten this afternoon. The end result is one that they clearly deserved, in more ways than one.
(read on for heroes and a rare no zeros/no killers...)Sens Hero: Kyle Turris
Great, great game from the youngster. He didn't shine during his first chance to replace Spezza, but he acquitted himself well the second time around. The Islanders are a far cry from the Devils, but two goals and two assists is a good night for anyone (unless you're Gretzky) no matter your opponent. Turris does not have the same skill set as Spezza--he doesn't have the long reach or the bag of dekes to dip into, so it was nice to see him just play this game his way. For example, his first goal: He takes a shot and gets his own rebound. It's easy to see Spezza cutting back inside to his backhand there or dishing the puck to one of his wingers (you'll notice Bobby Butler in perfect position for such a pass in the highlights), but Turris simply waits out both the defender and a falling Montoya to rifle the puck into the open net. He was involved in both power play goals, and did the dirty work to set up Michalek's goal. His contributions to the team's victory tonight cannot be overstated.
Sens Hero: Milan Michalek
Speaking of contributions, Michalek had three points (1G, 2A) himself. His backhand pass to Gonchar is a work of art, and makes you wonder why he doesn't pass more. With Spezza out, the pressure fell to Michalek to make life easy for his young center, and he was able to do just that.
Sens Hero: Sergei Gonchar
Simply loved what I saw from him tonight. Smart plays all over the place. A power play goal along with an assist on Turris' first goal doesn't hurt either. Mark my words: Ottawa's playoff success relies more on the Gonchar-Phillips pairing than it does on the Kuba-Karlsson one.
(Hey, your heroes are the same as the three stars of the game!) Shut up. I'm a big kid now. I picked them all by myself.
Honorable Mention: Nick Foligno
You know who had a goal and an assist in this game? Sergei Gonchar, duh. But, also, Nick Foligno. And Foligno was second on the team in shots because Erik Karlsson was too busy getting sodoku tips from Alex Auld (Karlsson actually tied with Michalek for second-most shots with three.) Foligno's 15 goals and 31 assists have him fifth on the team in scoring, and one has to wonder what his numbers might look like if he had not spent 30 games on the third and fourth lines.
Honorable Mention: Craig Anderson
Really, just for the breakaway save on Grabner. Anderson didn't have to win this game and wasn't tested very often, and got help from a crossbar and a post. But down 2-1 is a much different game than up 2-1, and Anderson made sure it was his team that was up 2-1 with one good save. As he does on most nights, he gave his teammates a chance to win when it mattered most. He just didn't have to do it on every other shot, like last night.
Someone get Gonchar a rulebook: At 17:24 of the third period, Gonchar took an interference penalty on Grabner. Grabner chipped the puck in, and to let Phillips get it, Gonchar just stuck his arms into Grabner. This is notable because Gonchar committed the exact same penalty against Brayden Schenn last night. No time to watch film on the plane, I suppose.
Welcome back: Jesse Winchester, returning from a concussion, created the rebound that Foligno banged in. He also won 10 of 14 faceoffs.
Did you know: After having a top five selection, it takes a team about two and a half seasons, on average, to return to the playoffs. Ottawa did it on one. Voters for the Jack Adams trophy should think about that.
Nicer than last night, huh?