Well, Ottawa made a game of it, at least. The Senators remained competitive for the entire game despite a 2-1 loss to the Eastern Conference-leading Boston Bruins, but with the loss tonight have been officially eliminated from the playoffs. (Despite what seemingly everyone had reported, that official elimination hadn't happened until tonight's loss).
The Sens started out well, with a goal from Daniel Alfredsson, courtesy of a well-played Chris Campoli tip and a sweet little Jason Spezza pass, that beat Tim Thomas glove side. Early in the second, though, human wrecking ball Milan Lucic made Anton Volchenkov feel the pain (I don't like Lucic anymore) and went down the left wing, firing a rocket high glove-side over Alex Auld's trapper to tie the game. Ottawa was outshot 13-7 in that second period, but thanks to some good goaltending from Auld the teams went into the third even. Early in that third frame, though, Marc Savard fired another shot high glove side to beat Auld and give the Bruins the lead, a lead which they would retain despite a late 6-on-4 advantage for the Senators.
Although they were outshot in the second period, it wasn't because the Sens didn't have a shortage of chances. Part of that near-doubling in shots in the middle frame (13-7) was a result of the Bruins' two powerplays, but it was also because on more than one occasion forwards including Nick Foligno and Spezza tried to deke through 1-on-1s or even 1-on-2s for a perfect shot, instead of firing the puck through the defenceman's skates and on net. In a loose game it's all well and good to try and be fancy, but it won't fly very far in a tight game like Thursday's.
In the end, Ottawa was only outshot 33-32--thanks in large part to 14 shots in the third period (Boston only had 6). Spezza led the way with five, Chris Campoli had four, and Alfredsson, Volchenkov (what?), and Chris Kelly (WHAT?!?!) each had three shots on net.
Campoli's taken some heat for his apparently underwhelming play, including from coach Cory Clouston, but I think he's been a pretty good acquisition. He was one of only three plus players for the Senators (along with Alfie and Brian Lee), had four shots on net as well as another two blocked on the way towards Thomas, and blocked three Boston shots before they got to Auld. In 19 games with the Senators, he's already scored four goals (including two game winners) and six assists, and is a +2. Not too bad, especially at a $633k cap hit.
Ottawa was outhit 23-19 on the night, but that's pretty good considering how these two lineups compare. Chris Neil led the Sens with four hits, Volchenkov had three, and Jesse Winchester had a couple. It was a game that proved Neil's value, but it's also worth noting that both Jason Smith and Cody Bass, two tough players, were out of the lineup with injuries. And they're both under contract for next season, as is gritty forward Zack Smith. And with another year under his belt, Winchester may have learned to watch himself when going in on Bruins' defenceman Zdeno Chara (for the second time this year, Winch got winded trying to hit the B's hulking blueliner). Plus Chris Phillips, Shean Donovan, and Jarkko Ruutu each had a single hit, and those three should be reasonably expected to step up their physical games against a team like Boston.
Immediately obvious in the game was the respectable depth each team had. Clouston and Claude Julien were rolling all four lines for most of the game, and their skaters weren't making them regret it. Ottawa's lowest ice-time was (once again) Donovan, with 8:21, and Boston's was Byron Bitz (great name? Or greatest name?) with 8:17. Neither had any special teams time, so that likely had something to do with it.
Ottawa's got five games to play to round out the season, including a chance to spoil the Canadiens' playoff hopes (please, please, spoil their hopes). Next game is Saturday, Apr. 4, and the final game is a week later. Then a few days until the always riveting televised NHL draft lottery (Apr. 14, TSN, 8 p.m.). The two and a half months until the 2009 NHL Entry Draft (June 26-27, 2009). Then four days until the start of free agency (July 1, 2009). Then a little less than three months until the start of 2009-2010, the Ottawa Senators' Season of Hope.