With the Atlantic division as tight as it is, every divisional game is a battle for the playoffs. Coming into tonight, the Panthers sat four points back of the Senators with one more game played, although they were red hot having gone 8-3-0 in their last eleven games. A massive part of the surge has to do with the return of young studs Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov, who combined have a P/GP of 1.06 since their returns.
Ottawa had two key returnees of their own tonight, as Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman were both on the ice to start the game after suffering injuries in last week’s contest versus Winnipeg. Mike Blunden and Fredrik Claesson were healthy scratches (Claesson’s third healthy scratch in a row), and Curtis Lazar was out with an upper-body injury.
It was a scrappy game for both teams, with Mark Borowiecki dropping the gloves two minutes into the first period with Shawn Thornton. A few minutes later during a Chris Neil minor penalty, Ottawa would strike first off a shorthanded rush from Zack Smith and Erik Karlsson. The captain showed off his speed by creating a two-on-one the other way and taking a shot, which went right to Smith for the rebound. It was Smith’s team-leading third shorthanded goal of the season and Ottawa’s sixth.
The scrappiness continued later into the period, with Thornton dropping the gloves again, this time with Dion Phaneuf. Thornton received a misconduct on the play, although Ottawa couldn’t muster anything on the ensuing power play.
The Panthers later went to the man advantage, where some slick passing led to wide open net for Jonathan Marchessault to tie the game late in the period. Both teams headed into the locker room dead even, with the shots also tied 9-9.
Early in the the second frame, both teams would get an even amount of chances. Kyle Turris would break the tie halfway through, sending a shot top shelf past James Reimer on the short side.
The highlight of the period, however, would come just a few minutes later. Reilly Smith appeared to have an open net in close, although a half-fanned shot combined with incredible athleticism from Craig Anderson kept the puck out. Anderson only seems to be getting younger, having himself another incredible game at a crucial time.
Both teams were deadlocked throughout the third period, with neither team being able to muster the next goal. Shawn Thornton dropped the gloves for a third time, this time opposing Chris Neil. The Sens got to the man advantage midway through with a chance to extend their lead, although the power play continued to lack pace as the game remained 2-1. Hoffman took an interference penalty against Vincent Trocheck with six minutes left, although the penalty kill was able to successfully shut the Panthers down.
Mark Stone nearly scored his 23rd of the season after poking one in from underneath Reimer, except the referee had already blown the whistle. The call made sense from the official’s perspective, as it appeared Reimer had already covered the puck. Either way, the game remained 2-1 Sens heading into the final stretch.
You won’t believe what happened next: another fight! Unexpectedly dropping the gloves were Ryan Dzingel and Reilly Smith (the battle of the #18s), who each recording their second career fights. It was just that kind of game.
James Reimer got pulled in the final minute, and although the Panthers would apply more pressure, The System would come through and hang on for the victory. The win moves Ottawa back within two points of Montreal for the Atlantic division lead, and a win tomorrow could bring us to the top.
Sens Hero: Erik Karlsson
The captain recorded an assist on each of Ottawa’s two goals, moving him within one assist of Nicklas Backstrom for second in the league. He was all over the ice tonight making offensive and defensive plays, and was a key component to pulling away with tonight’s victory.
On a side note, Karlsson played only 12:46 tonight at 5v5, his lowest total of the season. That was fourth amongst Sens defensemen, and a whole four minutes less than team-leading Dion Phaneuf. What’s up with that, Boucher?
Honourable Mention: Craig Anderson
There’s just something about Anderson that makes you feel secure whenever he’s in net. He allowed only one goal while facing 37 shots, and has only had a save percentage below .900 once since returning from leave. He made many great stops that could’ve resulted in goals for Florida, bailing out some at times porous defence. It was full beast mode tonight for Andy.
Sens Killer: Jonathan Marchessault
Scoring Florida’s lone goal tonight, Marchessault has now scored in three of the Sens’ four meetings with the Panthers this season. Now one away from 20 goals, watch out for him in the future.
The Sens return to action tomorrow night against the Lightning in Tampa Bay, at 7:30 PM.