Everyone can breathe now. It's okay, now you can relax if only for the next 48 hours or so. The Senators, who desperately needed this win against the Tampa Bay Lightning, pulled out a bit of a heart-stopper on this Thursday night. It's a good thing they did, because both the Boston Bruins and the Washington Capitals prevailed on Thursday as well; the full two points were needed simply to keep pace.
Tension was high throughout the night, even after Mark Stone opened the scoring just over five minutes into the game. In fact, Ottawa seemed to carry over its play from Tuesday's game against the Red Wings for the first half of the first period. At one point the shots were 9-2 in favour of the Sens. But ah yes, that tension I was talking about. At the tail end of a shift where the Sens had been pinned in their own end for almost a minute, Erik Karlsson took a holding penalty that sent the Lightning to the power play. On the ensuing kill, Jean-Gabriel Pageau couldn't quite get a bouncing puck out and before you knew it Johnathan Drouin had tied the game with a short-side top shelf wrister past Andrew Hammond. For the next almost 50 minutes, it was a tense affair where one wrong move could prove to be the difference.
In the second period, the Sens and the Lightning traded shots off the post and Cody Ceci couldn't quite cash on a one-timer off of a beautiful feed by Mika Zibanejad. By this point, Cameron had reunited Hoffman with Zibanejad and Ryan to great effect (though Ryan would spend some time on the Legwand line in the third period; that's a story for another day). Tension led to outright rage as Steven Stamkos got his knee out on Pageau to end the second period. Regardless of intent, the outcome was bad and Stamkos deserved a penalty on the play. Some commentators were reserved in their judgement:
I want to give Stamkos benefit of the doubt on that knee on knee hit on Pageau, but it didn't look good.— Ken Warren (@Citizenkwarren) April 3, 2015
Others not so much:
Garbage. That's probably the end of Pageau's season and no call. League better look at it. Doesn't help #Sens or Pageau though.— SensChirp (@SensChirp) April 3, 2015
Thankfully Pageau returned to the ice in the third period and didn't seem to bear any ill-effects of the hit. The third period was marked by a ton of activity outside of the Sens game as the Bruins mounted a furious third period comeback from being down 2-0 to win 3-2 in regulation against the Wings. Meanwhile, Alex Ovechkin was putting on a show. You could feel the pressure mounting and the back half of the third period amounted to the type of tight checking, low event hockey you expect to see in the play-offs. A David Legwand (??) shorthanded breakaway was Ottawa's best chance of the period but nothing doing.
Overtime produced chances both ways, but we seemed destined to settle this one in a shootout before Patrick Wiercioch scored the biggest goal of his life:
And with that, the celebration was on. The Sens didn't pick up any ground but they didn't lose any either. Onwards to Saturday.
Sens Hero: Patrick Wiercioch
Wiercioch was great again on Thursday, and even before his goal he made several strong plays with the puck. The Sens controlled play when he was on the ice to the tune of a +11 shot attempt differential at even strength. Let's hope Dave Cameron remembers nights like tonight especially vividly whenver he's thinking of subbing Jared Cowen back in for Wiercioch.
Sens Hero: Andrew Hammond
Hammond wasn't as busy as he's been in games past, but he stopped 29 of the 30 shots he faced on this night. Perhaps none were bigger than a big pad save on Kucherov from in close at the start of the game, following a blown coverage from Mark Borowiecki and Eric Gryba
Sens Zero: Eric Gryba and Mark Borowiecki
Tampa Bay is an awfully good skating team, and it's against this type of team speed that the Gryba-Borowiecki pairing has historically struggled. Tonight was no different, unfortunately. Ottawa was often pinned in its own end for long stretches when this pairing was on the ice.
Sens Killer: Ben Bishop
Bishop wasn't spectacular, but he did what he needed to in stopping 34 of the 36 shots he faced. He had no chance on either of the Sens' goals, either.