OTTAWA, CANADA - APRIL 16: Bobby Butler #16 of the Ottawa Senators skates with the puck while being chased by Michael Del Zotto #4 of the New York Rangers in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Scotiabank Place on April 16, 2012 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. The Rangers defeated the Senators 1-0. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
The Ottawa Senators might have lost game three to the New York Rangers by a 1-0 score, but they can walk away with some solace: They were the better team for the majority of the game. They were stymied at every turn by an all-world goaltending talent and paid for one of few defensive zone errors they made to lose the game, but there are ample positives to pull from the game--even if the biggest negative was the most important, the final score.
In a tight-checking first period, the Rangers came out strong and gained the momentum with an early powerplay, but Ottawa re-gained it when Marc Staal was assessed a chintzy even-up call. The Sens had a second powerplay later in the frame, and finished with a 12-8 edge in shots and a substantial margin in possession time.
The second was a reversal of stakes, with the Rangers carrying the play and getting the better chances (even though the Sens still outshot them by a 13-8 margin). New York benefited from two powerplays in the middle frame, but couldn't get anything past a quite remarkable Craig Anderson. Ottawa found themselves running around more in the second, but managed to hold their opponents off.
Ottawa stepped things up even further in the third, carrying much of the play and getting a whole whack of scoring chances--only to be stymied time and again by Henrik Lundqvist. At the 7:35 mark of the final period, all-time Sens Killer Brian Boyle scored his third goal in as many games to put Ottawa down by one. After that, New York mostly clamped down and tried to contain the Sens, and--thanks in large part to Lundqvist's heroics--they were able to.
All game long, the Senators were looking for someone to break through and make something happen. Kyle Turris had opportunities, and so did some of the team's bottom-six forwards, but Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek were both suffering offensively. Although Daniel Alfredsson's presence might not have changed the final result, the Senators looked like a team that missed their captain.
Ottawa now finds themselves down 2-1 in the series, and--as Ian Mendes tweeted after the game--they've never won a series in which they've lost game three. But these Sens are a resilient bunch, and you can be sure Paul MacLean will have them back and ready to go on Wednesday night for game four.
Sens Killer: Brian Boyle
He's doing his job, and I hate him for it. Finishing checks, making opponents uncomfortable, and scoring goals. Ottawa can't find a way to contain the guy, but they'd better.
Sens Killer: Henrik Lundqvist
Lundqvist stopped all 36 shots he faced, and frustrated any Senators skaters who weren't already frustrated by the suffocating defensive structure of the Rangers. He made what seems like dozens of huge saves on guys like Turris, Nick Foligno, Erik Condra, and even Jim O'Brien, and left Ottawa searching for answers on how to beat him. They know they can; they just need to find a way to get back to it.
Sens Hero: Craig Anderson
Anderson only faced 23 shots and stopped 22 of them, but he was absolutely HUGE when he was called upon by the Sens. The Rangers' low shot count had less to do with Ottawa's defensive support than it did with their huge advantage in possession time, so when New York had the puck, they were potent. Fortunately, Anderson was nearly perfect; unfortunately, he couldn't quite get there.
Sens Hero: Erik Karlsson
We'll get to the offence later, but let's start off with the defence; namely, King K's outstanding defensive play to break up a two-on-one against Ruslan Fedotenko and Derek Stepan. After Filip Kuba pinched in on the offensive zone, Karlsson was left with a clear two-on-one through the neutral zone and into the defensive end before Karlsson's quick, active stick restricted Fedotenko's passing options until Karlsson just nabbed the puck and skated it up. It was a prime example of the unconventional Karlssonian defensive style, and something that's been missed by a lot of critics discussing his Norris candidacy.
Sens Zero: Jason Spezza
Spezza is a creative player who needs to take chances to make plays. I get that. But in a game like the one these two teams played on Monday night, Spezza needed to hunker down and make much, much smarter decisions than many of those he ended up making. Blind passes to the slot rarely work at the best of times, and more often simply continue down the ice into the defensive zone, and that's what happened when he tried that move in the third. His speed isn't good enough to beat Brad Richards while starting from a dead heat, and it didn't work out when he tried it, costing the Sens a valuable 15-20 seconds late in the game. His cross-ice passes were routinely interrupted by the active sticks of the Rangers' skaters. Tellingly, Spezza was the only Senator who wasn't on the ice for more shots-for than shots-against; he was on for seven of each. Basically, I'm going to be "that guy": Spezza needs to smarten up and shoot the puck. He's the best forward on the team, and he needs to take shots instead of working on setting up the [perfect] play.
Sens Zero: Jared Cowen
I hate to do this to the rookie considering how effective he was while on the penalty kill, but he looked lost out there while at even strength. He was regularly out-hustled along the boards and had significant struggles advancing the puck. Unfortunately Matt Gilroy wasn't much better in the defensive zone, so Paul MacLean wasn't able to protect Cowen nearly as much as I'm sure he'd have liked to.
Sens Heroes: The fans
There were 20,182 in attendance tonight, and each and every one of the fans brought their A-game. The building was electric in the lead-up to the game and during the team intros, but did their best in the seconds leading up to and following the 11-minute mark in each period, where they honoured Daniel Alfredsson with the now-routine "Alfie" chants. I hope this thing sticks for the foreseeable future.
Heavy hitters: Colin Greening, Jesse Winchester, Zack Smith
In the latter part of the first period, on what seemed like consecutive shifts, these guys laid massive hits on Rangers players--Greening and Winchester each knocking around Marian Gaborik in the offensive zone and Z. Smith on Chris Kreider in the defensive end. These three were among the numerous Senators working on making the Rangers hesitate around the puck and "hear footsteps" when they're skating towards it, and those big hits were a good way of doing it. These guys also get Honourable Mentions in the game, particularly Winchester.
Honourable Mention: Jim O'Brien
Jimbo had one of the Sens' best scoring chances just after the mid-point of the second period, and I'd wager you'd guess he played a lot more than just 6:55 TOI. Well, that's all he played, and he made the most of it.
Honourable Mention: Bobby Butler
Butler picked a heck of a time to bring his A-game, too, playing like a bat out of hell in his first career NHL playoff game. He finished the game with an amazing five shots--more than any other Senator but Karlsson, who he tied in shots on goal--in just 14:09. Butler spent much of the season in MacLean's doghouse, but the way he played on Monday surely gave the coach plenty to think about.