As the Ottawa Senators' run of hot play has extended improbably onward, it's at times felt like the team was gathering momentum -- imagine a snowball slowly growing as it rolls down the side of a mountain. As a fan, you start to feel like wins are more inevitable than they really are. In reality, this streak could very well end at any time. Andrew Hammond's personal Cinderella story could strike midnight without notice. Tonight's game versus the Carolina Hurricanes didn't end the streak, but the outcome was anything but inevitable. It was a barn-burner against a squad that's quietly been playing some excellent hockey since the calendar flipped to 2015. How the Sens arrived at their destination tonight was anything but straightforward.
The first period was notable for an early fight between Mark Borowiecki and Brad Malone. It's not often that one would describe an Ottawa-Carolina game in mid-March as having a play-off atmosphere but this game fit the bill right from the first puck drop. Play was mostly even through one, with Anton Khudobin flashing a good save on Turris before Elias Lindholm finished a sweet pass from Jeff Skinner off a rush to make it 1-0 Carolina. Milan Michalek took his first of two penalties on the night near the end of the frame, but the Sens were able to kill it off without falling further behind.
If it was fair to say the play in the first period had slightly favoured Carolina, it was all Ottawa in the second. The Sens successfully pressured the Canes defense and generated long shifts of cycling the puck. As has so often been the case during the streak, the Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Erik Condra and Curtis Lazar line led the way in this category. It's been a revelation to see what a third line built on skill and speed can do. Lazar, in fact, would draw a penalty after he took a high stick in the face from Malone. After ninety seconds of great pressure but no goals, Justin Faulk would flip the puck over the glass to give the Sens an abbreviated 5 on 3. Patrick Wiercioch would make sure the Sens took full advantage by blasting home a one-timer just as time expired on the Malone penalty. Ottawa would continue to carry play for the rest of the period and end the frame with a decisive 16-6 edge in shots.
Unfortunately for Sens fans, the third period did not treat Ottawa as kindly. Starting with a hooking call on Erik Condra that Jeff Skinner definitely "earned", the Sens were only ever able to mount pressure in small batches. The Jared Cowen-Mark Borowiecki pairing, in particular, struggled badly but Andrew Hammond was up to the task. A sliding glove save off of Jordan Staal while the Sens were short-handed was the highlight of the frame, but very few of the 18 saves the Hamburglar made in the third were of the garden variety.
In keeping with the play-off atmosphere, Mike Hoffman and Ron Hainsey, and then subsequently Milan Michalek and Nathan Gerbe, would get coincidental minors that led to four on four hockey. Combined with the almost five minutes of overtime also spent at four on four, it's safe to say this game did not suffer from a shortage of odd man rushes and wide open ice. When the overtime finally did arrive, so much happened that it's hard to summarize. The two critical moments occured when Patrick Wiercioch, who was excellent throughout, broke up a 3 on 1 not long before this:
You could say people were excited:
STONE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!— Silver Seven (@silversevensens) March 18, 2015
WHAT A GOAL!!!!!!!!!! BAHHHHHH!— SensChirp (@SensChirp) March 18, 2015
A goal so beautiful Chirp momentarily became a sheep. I almost destroyed my laptop by launching it off my lap. Pandemonium, my friends. This ride ain't over yet.
Sens Hero: Andrew Hammond
There were stretches where Hammond's services were barely required, particularly in the second, but he stood tall when he needed to. With Craig Anderson hurt (again), this is unquestionably Hammond's team for the near term. He ran with the ball again tonight.
Sens Hero: Patrick Wiercioch
As an unabashed Wiercioch fan, you should perhaps take this with a small grain of salt but to my eyes he was the best skater Ottawa had tonight. He was solid defensively, breaking up rushes, winning puck battles and his usual self on offense. Just a great game from a guy who couldn't crack the line-up at the start of the year
Sens Killer: Anton Khudobin
Like his counterpart, Khudobin went through stretches where he didn't see much of the action but he was fantastic when called upon. He made notable saves on Kyle Turris, twice, and Curtis Lazar on a breakaway to keep the Senators to just the two goals on 33 shots.