Their season has been effectively over for about two weeks now, but last night the Ottawa Senators were officially eliminated from the play-offs in spite of their win over the Winnipeg Jets. With their post-season aspirations extinguished and their depleted roster limping towards the finish line, it wouldn't have been too much of a surprise if the Sens had laid an egg tonight on the second night of a back-to-back against a strong Minnesota Wild team. But if you thought this team was through confounding you, they had one last trick up their sleeve: a complete win, well played from start to finish, of the type that you expect from a play-off team. What might have been, indeed.
The first period was somewhat uneventful, in the way that so many Wild games are, but the Senators played well throughout. The key to beating the Wild is to not beat yourself, and to that end the Sens rarely turned the puck over in the opening frame. The best chance came for Zack Smith midway through the period, when the big winger's shot in front went off the outside of the post and kept the game scoreless. It's been written so many times by so many people that it's almost not worth repeating at this stage, but Smith really does look like a different player on the wing. He's free to make better use his speed and he's had a knack for getting to the right spot on the ice. I'm not sure he's solved the ever-lasting quest for a top 6 forward, but he's been an indisputable bright spot.
Not even four minutes into the second, Sens fans got what they came to see: an Erik Karlsson goal.
There are so many things Karlsson does at a high level, but I think his wrist shot might be under-rated (if that's possible). On the goal, Bobby Ryan's pass across is tipped on the way so Devan Dubnyk has time to get over and set but Karlsson still blows it clean past him. Just absurd.
Short of a spectacular collapse, the Wild seem destined for the play-offs this year and they showed why after the Karlsson goal. Minnesota carried the play until Zach Parise equalized just over 11 minutes into the second frame. The goal stemmed from a botched recovery by Methot on a Minnesota dump-in that led to a scramble in front where Parise outmuscled Cody Ceci to slide one by Craig Anderson. For those who have been watching this team all year long, that goal had an awfully familiar feeling to it.
But as I mentioned off the top, the Sens came to play tonight and before the period was out Jean-Gabriel Pageau would restore the lead by tipping a puck through Dubynk's five hole.
The Sens would survive the first of two Methot penalties right at the end of the second to carry a 2-1 lead into the third period.
Finally to start the third, it seemed like everything caught up to the Sens: the Wild carried the play to the tune of an 8-5 advantage on the shot clock and a 13-7 edge in 5v5 on shot attempts. It wasn't so much that the Wild were peppering the Sens net though, as it was that Ottawa couldn't seem to do much more than sit on the lead by lifting the puck out of their end and changing. And if you've been watching this team long enough, you'll know that sitting on leads just isn't their specialty. After Curtis Lazar coughed the puck up in the slot, Erik Haula buried a Jason Pominville feed to equalize and send this game to a tense finish.
With just over five minutes remaining, Methot took his second penalty of the game but the Sens were able to fight off a few good chances for the Wild before Cody Ceci scored a weird one that turned out to be the game winner:
All told, it wasn't the prettiest game in the world but considering their circumstances this was a very good effort from the Sens: they held the Wild to 25 shots and generally were the better team throughout. They got two more points for their captain in his quest for a third Norris, and the kids looked generally alright. There are only four games left before the long, long summer ahead -- let's hope the last four games are at least played like this one.
Sens Hero: Erik Karlsson
He's the obvious choice on almost every night, but he definitely deserved it tonight. The captain was everywhere, breaking up the Wild attack and jumping in to kick-start the Sens when necessary. He also added a goal and an assist to bring his point total to a remarkable 79 on the season. Give this man his hardware.
Sens Hero: Jean-Gabriel Pageau
I was admittedly worried about the prospects of Smith and Pageau without Mark Stone but their line continued humming along and a large part of that was due to Pageau. The speedster created a number of chances and potted a goal and two assists in 18:08 of ice time.
Sens Dishonourable Mention: Marc Methot
This was a rough game for Methot, as he took two undisciplined penalties and just generally struggled to move the puck consistenyl. If the Wild had scored on their late power play stemming from his second minor, this might have been a different game.