Amazing what a difference a few hours makes it, isn’t it? In the lead-up to tonight’s game, the mood surrounding the Ottawa Senators could have not been more dour for a team just two wins away from playing for the Stanley Cup; a resounding 7-0 defeat in their last outing and a seemingly dismal crowd for what might have been the last game of the season will do that. It wouldn’t be this year’s edition of the Sens without one more plot twist, though: Ottawa held on for a 2-1 victory tonight over the defending Stanley Cup Champions Pittsburgh Penguins, and now we’re headed for a winner-takes-all Game 7 on Thursday.
The aforementioned dark clouds aside, there were several intriguing on-ice story lines.
To name just a few:
- After somewhat inexplicably going with a 11F-7D configuration in game 5, Guy Boucher turned to Colin White and Ryan Dzingel to play on his fourth line. Could they be effective?
- Could Ottawa slow down a Pittsburgh power play that had scored on its last three opportunities with seeming impunity?
- Could Ottawa score on a power play of their own for the first time since....well, since the second round against the Rangers?
- Could Craig Anderson bounce back after getting pulled in Game 5?
Believe it or not, the answer to all of these questions proved to be: yes. Though White and Dzingel, along with Stalberg, played only a handful of minutes the trio held its own when it was out there. Boucher sheltered the line to an almost comical degree, deploying them only for offensive zone draws against either Pittsburgh’s third or fourth lines, but they did their job when called upon.
Much more importantly, the Senators killed all three Pittsburgh power plays including two in the first period. The Pens looked dangerous on several occasions with the man advantage, most notably on a 4-on-2 after Viktor Stalberg and Zack Smith had just had a chance on Matt Murray, but the Ottawa penalty bent without breaking.
It should be said here that a lot of the Sens success tonight, not just on the penalty kill but throughout the game, was owing to the spectacular play of Craig Anderson. On the whole, Ottawa was outplayed tonight. For a stretch in the second period, they were outplayed badly. Sometimes the shot clock can be a bit misleading, but in this case it was not:
And if you see anybody with the "yeah they had lotsa shots but they were all on the outside" you tell 'em no for me. pic.twitter.com/EwOL0Yoi5O— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) May 24, 2017
But also, sometimes, a goalie simply steals a game for you. Goalies are an important part of good teams, and it’s nearly impossible to win a championship without competent goaltending. Craig Anderson is a great goalie, and the Sens badly needed him to bounce back tonight. He did.
After a scoreless first period that featured the previously mentioned penalty kills, and a few Sens’ chances that didn’t amount to much, Ottawa was on its heels for most of the second period. Pittsburgh even appeared to score a goal less than five minutes into the frame but the tally was disallowed after Boucher successfully challenged on the basis of goalie interference. Trevor Daley certainly jammed Anderson into his net as he swiping at the puck, but the reversal only delayed the inevitable: Evgeni Malkin scored on a terrific individual effort 4:51 into the period.
Staring at elimination for the first time all year, really staring at it, didn’t seem to immediately wake the Sens up but a power play, of all things, did the trick. After Jean-Gabriel Pageau drew an interference penalty on Ron Hainsey, Kyle Turris was high-sticked in the face by Ian Cole with Ottawa already up a man and the Sens were gifted a lengthy 5v3 to tie the game. For once, the power play not only looked great but delivered a crucial goal:
Escaping from a period in which they ended up being outshot 23 (!!) to 10 with a 1-1 tie was about all you could ask for.
I’m not sure what exactly was said between the second and the third period, but Ottawa looked like a very different team to start the final frame. They were rewarded for their efforts with a goal from Mike Hoffman off a pass from Fredrik Claesson
Hoffman’s had something of an up and down play-off run, but his skill is undeniable and to win play-off series you need game-breakers. When the Sens needed a goal, he delivered. Big points to Claesson for jumping into the rush as he did as well. This goal doesn’t happen if he doesn’t read the play and cut right up the middle of the ice to lead the breakout.
The rest of the third was largely spent defending the slimmest of margins. Anderson answered the call again and again, and Erik Karlsson played an inhuman number of minutes to help preserve the advantage. Sidney Crosby had perhaps the best chance to tie it from right in close with fewer than five minutes to play but Anderson got his blocked on the one-timer. As the final seconds ticked away, Sens fans were probably alternating between gasping for breath and screaming their lungs out. It wasn’t a perfect game, but at this stage all that matters is the win.
The Sens are one win away from the Stanley Cup final. Hard to say it hasn’t been fun.
Craig Anderson: Andy was easily the best player on either team tonight, stopping 45 of the 46 shots he faced. Pittsburgh could have buried the Sens in the second period but Anderson was the difference.
Fredrik Claesson: A big assist on the winning goal, Claesson also made several strong plays with the puck.
Evgeni Malkin: Malkin was the Penguins’ best player tonight and I was genuinely terrified every time he stepped on the ice.
Bobby Ryan: Bobby got the tying goal and had several strong plays with the puck. Took the one foolish penalty, but the Sens’ PK made sure it wasn’t a costly error.
The Crowd: The final tally, according to NHL.com, was 18,111 but boy was it loud at the Canadian Tire Centre tonight. The atmosphere was incredible; kudos to everyone that made it so.