As a fan of the Ottawa Senators, let me just say this: beating the Toronto Maple Leafs always feels great. There’s something even better about it being in Ottawa with 10,000 smug Leafs fans in town, and also with Toronto expected to be good while Ottawa’s last in the league. Sure, I’d love to see the Sens doing well, but watching a top-of-the-league Leafs team struggle against an awful Sens team almost makes me forget about those early-2000s playoff series. Almost. Not really. Anyway, sorry, this is supposed to be a happy article.
Leafs fans must have been at least a little encouraged by the first period. After watching their team get thoroughly outaplayed by the Sens last time, they at least were the far more convincing team in the first, outshooting the Sens 18-7. The trouble for them is that Craig Anderson was on his game.
After seeing Anderson struggle through more than three months without a win, it’s nice to see him string together a couple of stellar performances. He deserves some good games after suffering through these last two seasons as the team’s starter.
The second period, things started to get fun as a Sens fan. For starters, the Sens were only outshot 12-9. But more than that, they scored. The first goal was a thing of beauty. Noted Leaf-killer Magnus Paajarvi stole the puck from Auston Matthews at the Leafs’ blue line, and then Oscar Lindberg got that puck to Anthony Duclair who shot the thing at about 258 km/h in and out of the net. Seriously, I blinked and missed the goal. I could tell there were a few more Sens fans than last time because I could actually hear people cheer when the goal went in. You also saw the apprehension rising in the Leafs fans in the stands. After so many of them watched there team fall to a far-worse Sens team two weeks ago, it looked like it might happen again. And after watching their Leafs lose seven out of their last 11, who could blame them?
The 2-0 goal made Leafs fans even more nervous. The favour of the first goal was returned, with Duclair passing it from behind the net to Paajarvi in front who spun around and shot it five-hole on Garrett Sparks. That put Paajarvi at five goals against Toronto this year, and he’s scored just 11 on the whole season. I did call him “noted Leaf-killer” above. I thought Mike Babcock might just pull Sparks there, but he kept him in, and to be fair, Sparks didn’t cost them the game.
The third period saw the Leafs do something they haven’t done much of lately, which was fight back in the game. First, Auston Matthews (who else?) got them on the board with a powerplay goal from right in the slot. It’s a position you can’t leave him alone in. Then just after the ensuing faceoff, the Sens looked to get the goal back but got caught being a little sloppy. Chris Tierney entered the Leafs’ zone and dropped the puck to Thomas Chabot, but the drop pass didn’t quite work, Chabot took his circle after the missed pass a little too wide, and suddenly the Leafs had a two-on-one the other way. Connor Brown elected to shoot, and when the puck beat Anderson it made it a tie game. The Toronto fans in the crowd was suddenly back in the game, and the arena was rocking.
It only took just over a minute for the Sens to take back the lead. Brady Tkachuk and Colin White wanted to make sure they weren’t forgotten with the Duclair-Paajarvi show, and raced into the Leafs zone. After some quick passing, Tkachuk dropped it to Cody Ceci while White went to the net for the screen, and Ceci beat a helpless Sparks. And all the Sens fans in the stands leaped to their feet again. It felt like people kept coming to the arena, because every time the Leafs scored it felt like a 70% Leafs fans crowd, but then when the Sens scored it felt like a 50-50 crowd.
From there, the Sens mostly played defence while the Leafs poured on the chances. Their best chance came with 4:30 left off the stick of Mitch Marner, but Anderson denied him thanks to what he termed his “long legs”:
With just over two minutes left in the game, Andreas Johnsson took a dumb cross-checking penalty, and Ottawa went to the powerplay with the lead. The Leafs would pull the goalie to give themselves a 5-on-5 shot, but Marner and John Tavares collided in the Sens’ zone, which allowed Duclair to receive a pass and skate all the way to the Leafs’ net with nobody in his way. It felt a bit like those NHL ‘94 goals where you forget to shoot and just lose the puck when you hit the goal line and it ends up in the net.
That sealed the win, but didn’t end the game quite. With 30 seconds left, noted actual jerk (take note, Don Cherry) Nazem Kadri decided he hadn’t run Chabot enough during the night, and decided to headlock him. First Anderson came in to pull Kadri off, and then Jean-Gabriel Pageau went after Kadri. Both Pageau and Kadri got kicked out of the game, but it didn’t matter. The Leafs had lost another one to the Sens, giving Ottawa the season series 3-1.
- How can you not mention Craig Anderson? 42 saves for a big, big win. He seemed almost giddy after this one.
- Duclair can fly, shoot, read the play. He’s very good.
- The Tkachuk and White 2-on-1 was part of what excites me about these players. They can read each other, anticipate, and do everything with skill at high speed.
- The off-ice highlight of the game:
Leafs fans start a “sell your team” chant. Sens fans join in— Pan of Hockey Ops (@PanofSCU) March 30, 2019
Sweet, Sweet Highlights: