How does this feel, folks?
It was a tense game, and probably wasn't the Ottawa Senators best effort, but some clutch performances got them through it with a 2-0 win over the New York Rangers and a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference Quarter-Finals series.
Ottawa got their best start of the series when Mark Stone sent Jason Spezza in alone on Henrik Lundqvist, and Spezza beat Lundy five-hole to give Ottawa their first lead to work with in the playoffs. The Rangers were awarded four consecutive powerplays in the period, two before Spezza's goal and two after, but New York couldn't gain much against the Sens penalty killers, and, when they could, Craig Anderson was there.
Anderson's near-omnipresence was a recurring theme in the game. He was outstanding. But more on that later...
In the second, the powerplays evened out as Ottawa had three opportunities with the man-advantage, but couldn't muster much. Neither team had their powerplays going in the game, but it (luckily) didn't hurt Ottawa nearly as much as it did New York thanks to their early lead.
The final frame was a tight-checking affair, but the Rangers brought it: They fired 15 shots at Anderson in the third, but once again he was up to the task and kept things under control. Spezza scored his second of the game into an empty net, salting away the game and putting Ottawa within one win of advancing to the second round.
Few people saw this happening before the season started.
Let's talk about goaltending, as it's been the biggest feature of this series so far. Seeing Anderson go head-to-head with probable Vezina Trophy winner and come out looking great is remarkable. Especially since Ottawa's defence hasn't been nearly as supportive of their goaltender as New York's has been. That's not to suggest any shortcoming on Lundqvist's part, but more to demonstrate just how impressive Anderson has been so far. Speaking of Andy...
Sens Hero: Craig Anderson
Remember how Lundqvist stole game three for the Rangers? Anderson replied tonight by stealing game five for the Sens. He stopped all 41 shots he faced to record his second career playoff shutout and setting a franchise record for most saves made in a playoff shutout. He was especially important in the first period, containing the Rangers' early-game surge and helping kill off two Rangers powerplays, keeping the game scoreless until Ottawa's offensive guns could do their work. His calm demeanour helped keep the whole Sens team under wraps, and gave them the confidence necessary to get the lead and keep it. He's stepped things up, and has been the go-to guy for the Sens.
Sens Hero: Jason Spezza
Spezza's been taking a lot of slack for not shooting as much as people would like to see, and even more for not having scored yet. He responded tonight by scoring two goals. The first was a thanks to a beauty pass from Stone (more on him below), but credit still needs to go to Spezza for seeing and hitting the opening Lundqvist left for him. Spezza made no mistake on the first of his team-high six shots in the game. Good time for the team's leading scorer to break out; hopefully he keeps it up.
Sens Hero: Mark Stone
Can you believe this was Stoner's first NHL game? Probably, because everyone knew that fact, but the poise he displayed on his set-up pass to Spezza was a veteran move. He was used relatively conservatively, playing just 8:43 TOI, a bunch of which (3:35) was on the powerplay. Notching an assist in your first NHL game, which happened to be a huge playoff game? Not a bad start to a career.
Sens Hero: Zenon Konopka
Zeeke has, once again, a clutch role player tonight. He won 10 of 12 faceoffs taken, including nine of 10 in the defensive zone. Plus he got his second assist of the playoffs on Spezza's empty-netter, which is kind of insane considering he had two assists throughout his 55 regular-season games. These playoffs have been a bit of a coming out party for Konopka, demonstrating the fact that he has the ability to take a regular shift in the league and to be a faceoff and penalty-killing specialist. Konopka, however, needs to redefine himself in his own eyes, too, and spend less time looking for fights and more time looking for other opportunities when next season begins. The good news is that he will almost certainly have a one-way NHL contract once again, and there's a good chance it will be with the Sens.
Quiet Night: Erik Karlsson
Maybe it was because he doesn't stand-out as much sans sick flow, but I felt Karlsson was fairly quiet in the game. He still managed four shots on net and wasn't a liability by any measure, but, by his standards, he wasn't at his best. He wasn't leading rushes or making jaw-dropping breakout passes, but just playing some fairly safe and low-risk defence. It reflected in his 22:06 TOI, which was lower than any other game he's played in the series to date. Maybe he's nursing an injury, maybe his high-minute games are catching up to him, maybe he lost his mojo when he cut his hair, or maybe the team just didn't need him to be the dynamic presence he often is. But he didn't seen quite right on Saturday night.
There it is. It's a big hit, and it left Boyle visibly shaken up afterward. It wasn't interference (by CBC's measure, it was a quarter of a second after puck release), Neil didn't leave his feet before contact, and it looked to me like the shoulder was the principle point of contact. Strikes me as a good hit on a vulnerable player, but one you've got to make every time.
As an aside, I'm supremely disappointed that after every single big hit in the game, we're left struggling to figure out what the potential repercussions of the contact might be.
Gamesmanship: John Tortorella's post-game presser
Further to the Neil-Boyle hit was Tortorella's post-game comments, in which he declared Boyle was concussed and would not play in game six, that the hit fit the Raffi Torres "blueprint," and that Neil was (probably) a repeat offender. Boyle may very well be concussed, but if so it's highly problematic that he didn't leave the game right away, instead playing another three shifts after the hit. It's also suspicious that Tortorella released the injury verdict immediately after the game, declaring it was a concussion that would keep Boyle out of the next game. Doesn't exactly fit the convention of injury-report-containment so common in the league.
I discussed the "blueprint" above, but it's also notable that Neil has never before been suspended--despite playing a game that's right on the line throughout his entire career.
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