It finally ended. The impossible ride, truly, finally ended. As they have so many times already this season, the Sens once again found themselves fighting against the odds in this game. The thing about tempting fate is that if you do it one too many times, you're going to get burned. This wasn't a game that Ottawa especially deserved to lose; by many measures, you could argue they deserved to win it. The final shot tally was 43-20 in favour of the local heroes, but Carey Price stood his tallest and the Sens simply could not find a way past the best goalie in the world. Sure, there will be some regrets but this is a team that has nothing to be ashamed of. There were ample occasions over the course of the last three months to just roll over and die, but they never did. At least for tonight, if you are a fan of this team, take comfort in that.
All that said, this particular outcome will be a tough pill to swallow for quite some time. Thirteen and a half minutes into a game that had been sloppy, but even, the Habs took a lead they would never relinquish. That Montreal’s goal was scored by super-pest Brendan Gallagher, of all people, is salt in the wound if there ever was. Adding insult to injury is that the initial camera angle of the replay of the goal certainly made it seem like Gallagher struck the puck with a high stick. A second viewing confirmed that the refs made the right call on the ice. And thus the scene was set: the Sens would need to chase down a Habs team that’s made it this far relying largely on their all-world goalie to preserve precarious leads.
It’s not like Ottawa didn’t have its chances – the Sens had four power plays, including one with less than four minutes remaining, compared to just one for the Habs. If there’s one area in which the Sens should feel true remorse, it’s on the subject of how little they did with those four power plays. In eight full minutes of power play time, Ottawa generated a pitiful five shots on net.
"But, tell me about that blown call!" It’s true that the Sens were seemingly cheated out of a goal:
Shots are 9-1 Senators in first eight minutes of second period. Not including the 10th one by Pageau.— Ken Warren (@Citizenkwarren) April 26, 2015
Maybe I’m having a Zen moment here, but that was a fairly garden variety quick whistle from a referee that clearly couldn’t see the puck. The ref made the technically correct call – he couldn’t see the puck and so he blew it dead. Frankly, it’s hard for me to blame him: these two teams had spent the first period and a half scrumming after literally every single goalie stoppage. From Lee’s perspective, Price appeared to have it covered and he had the chance to stop the play dead before everyone got in there and started going at each other. It’s unfortunate, but these things happen. It’s not like Mika Zibanejad, Bobby Ryan, Clarke MacArthur, among others, could get it past Price on their golden opportunities in the latter half of the game.
As time ticked down, and the Sens could sense their Cinderella story reaching midnight, they threw everything but the kitchen sink at the Habs in the last ten minutes of the third. This style of aggressive pinching allowed Montreal several fantastic chances to put the game out of reach, but they couldn’t beat Craig Anderson. Somehow, as a Sens fan, it seemed impossible that Ottawa wouldn’t be able to tie it. Every Montreal rush up the ice, dangerous as it was, didn’t seem like it could end in a goal against. When MacArthur missed on the short side from right in front of Price, and Pacioretty turned and fired the puck into the empty net to salt away the game, it was a shocking feeling. Was this really supposed to happen?
Ultimately, that was the power of this impossible run. Sens fans are a sensitive, fragile bunch. Besides the run to the Cup final in 2007, this is a team that’s seen far more play-off heartbreak than triumph. Three months ago, we were all very much conditioned to expect the worst at all times. By the time this series finally came to an end, that was no longer true. When you look back on this season, remember how it felt to be quietly confident that your team could pull it off. How it felt to sincerely and truly throw yourself into cheering for an impossible outcome. It’s clichéd, but this squad healed a lot of old wounds. There’ll be time for in-depth analysis later. For now, just remember this feeling.