It's safe to say most Sens and Devils fans were looking past this game. It's safe to say both teams probably were too. Both teams had already secured playoff hockey after missing the postseason the year before and we're probably hoping to get through the game without suffering any injuries.
The first period began slowly in what looked like a typical Devils period. Faced with a clogged neutral zone, Ottawa iced the puck on the very first play. However, midway through the period Matt Gilroy stirred-up the playoff lineup debate when he potted his third of the year and his first as a Senator with a backhand that somehow found the back of the net. Future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur probably wants that goal back. The Devils answered back five minutes later, when Ilya Kovalchuk snapped home a powerplay goal on a slick feed from the ageless Patrick Elias.
The ice tilted in favour of the Devils for most of the second period and Craig Anderson had to make a number of key saves to keep his team in it. Surprisingly, it was Ottawa who scored first, to take a 2-1 lead. Jim O'Brien roofed a snap shot past Brodeur after a nice play by Condra to set him up. The lead didn't last long. With the Sens killing a penalty, Jared Cowen pinned the puck deep in the Devils zone. Rather than quit while he was ahead, Cowen tried to make one move too many and in the process took out the Ottawa forward who was also down low. What followed was a New Jersey 5-on-1 that was simply funny. There was nothing Gonchar or Anderson could do, and Petr Sykora tipped in the tying goal.
The Devils answered back midway through the third period. Alexei Ponikarovsky powered by Daniel Alfredsson and chipped the puck toward the net. Stephen Gionta, left alone in front of the net by Sergei Gonchar, wristed the puck into the mostly open net for his first career goal. The Sens increased the pressure for the rest of the period but Ilya Kovalchuk sealed things with an empty-net goal. Shots: 35-33 in favor of the Devils.
Continue reading for heroes and zeroes.
Sens Hero: Matt Gilroy
It sure looked like Gilroy was making a case for his inclusion in the postseason lineup this afternoon. Gilroy opened the scoring and assisted on Ottawa second goal and was +2 for the game. He also led a few rushing into the New Jersey zone and made a couple simple, but key, defensive plays in front of Craig Anderson. He certainly gave Paul MacLean something to think about for game 1.
Sens Hero: Craig Anderson
Andy was sharp tonight stopping 31-34 shots. Beaten by a nice shot by Ilya Kovalchuk in the first, hung out to dry on the 5-on-1, there was not much Andy could have done on any of the Devils goals, including Gionta's. What Anderson did do was give his team a chance to win by keeping them in the game when New Jersey pressured Ottawa through much of the second period. Andy will need to play at least this strong if the Sens have any chance in the playoffs.
Sens Killer: Ilya Kovalchuk
Kovalchuk had two goals today and his line looked dangerous every time they were on the ice. And they were on the ice a lot, as Kovy logged 23:40 minutes in ice time today. The last few years of this contract might be ugly, but Kovalchuk is making it look worthwhile right now.
Sens Turning Point: New Jersey's 5-on-1 at the end of the second period
Ottawa's 2-1 lead didn't last long because New Jersey tied the game on this play which began with an ill-advised Jared Cowen pinch. It was a rookie mistake and a scenario you won't likely see again for a long time, but it allowed the Devils to move back into their comfort zone (playing with the lead or tied) for the rest of the game. Also, it was hilarious.