... I don’t know how I’m supposed to recap that game.
There’s something special about games between the Ottawa Senators and the Toronto Maple Leafs. On the ice, the rivalry may not be what it once was, but in the stands and on social media, it rages on. These games take on a special quality. It’s like anything could happen. Yes, the Sens are the last place team in the entire league in the midst of a historically bad season, while the Leafs are a “cup contender,” but if something as weird and unusual as a Sens win is going to happen at some point this season, it might as well happen against the Leafs
As Sens fans, we haven’t had meaningful hockey to cheer for since 2017. With the Sens being as bad as they are, all we can really do is try to find meaning in the meaningless games. Root for the players with the good storylines. The kid looking for his first NHL goal. The game against a heated rival.
Reader, I have not cheered that loudly for a Senators goal in about 3 and a half years, and I know I’m not alone.
It was a hell of a game.
Unfortunately, the game got off to a rocky start. The first few minutes were pretty ugly from a Sens perspective. Ottawa struggled to so much as touch the puck while the Leafs kind of looked like they were playing with their food. It was depressing, watching the Sens just try to weather the storm as the commentators listed off their absolutely abysmal stats, in case any listeners weren’t aware. Please, spare me. I already know how bad this team is, and I wish I didn’t.
The Sens really are a bad team, aren’t they, though? Just terrible. Losing to them even once is probably grounds for relegation. It’s too bad the Leafs would never do anything that embarrassing.
Sure enough, Auston Matthews scored the first goal of the game to put the Leafs ahead 1-0.
Ottawa continued to look abysmal at both ends of the ice. Their defense was lazy and sloppy, their offense uninspired. The only player who consistently looked good was Stützle. It was going to be a long night.
Or was it?
The worst part about this first period was how boring it was. I’ve recapped plenty of losses in my time as a writer here, and I honestly don’t mind it if they lose, as long as they lose in a funny way. This was not funny.
But, dear reader, it was about to get so goddamn funny.
Ottawa picked up the pace a little bit in the second half of the period. They didn’t look amazing, but they were making things happen, kind of, occasionally. Chabot even got a really nice chance, right before the Leafs grabbed the puck and promptly scored again to double their lead. 2-0 Toronto.
Things sure were looking bad for the Sens, weren’t they?
Nylander almost scored again after that, but Marcus Hogberg made a great stop to keep the Sens in the game.
Not all hope was lost, though! About 13 minutes in, Tim Stützle fed the puck to Drake Batherson for a beautiful goal - only his second of the season. A great goal from an elite pair. Maybe they should, I don’t know, play together a bit more. 2-1 Toronto.
Let’s just hope this quells the rumours of Batherson being scratched.
That goal was exactly what the Senators needed. They didn’t manage to get the puck in the net again in the period, but they looked much more awake, even getting a few good looks at the net. The play looked a lot more even - a huge step up from the first half of the period. They headed into the first intermission down 2-1, but firmly back in the game, at least for the moment.
Unfortunately, things got worse at the beginning of the second. Though the Sens looked alright to start, it took less than 2 minutes for Toronto to pull even further ahead. The Sens defense looked pretty bad on that goal, and Hogberg didn’t look great either. 3-1 Toronto.
The next few minutes looked like a Leafs powerplay. The Sens barely looked like they were trying, and it was a miracle every time they touched the puck. They certainly didn’t get any good looks at the net.
You know we’re in the darkest timeline when the commentators start praising the Leafs’ defence.
It was kind of funny, though, since defending against the 2021 Ottawa Senators is hardly anything to be proud of. It’s like when you’re twelve and you start bragging about beating your 6-year-old sibling at road hockey. You’re a bit too old to be proud of this, and the fact that you’re bragging about it is kind of embarrassing.
Although, in hindsight, I guess there’s actually one thing even more embarrassing than bragging about destroying your six-year-old sibling at road hockey, which is bragging about it only for said sibling to absolutely kick your ass anyways.
The Sens started to look a little bit better after that. The onslaught of Leafs chances was occasionally interrupted by a Sens shot on goal. Brady Tkachuk got into a fight in front of the net toward the midway point of the game, only a few seconds after feeding Josh Norris for a good chance.
The Sens went to powerplay soon after that fight - the first powerplay of the game. DJ Smith put an extremely underwhelming collection of players on the ice, and unsurprisingly they failed to create much offense.
Stützle made some good plays on the second powerplay unit, but Ottawa failed to score with the man advantage. Almost immediately after the powerplay ended, Auston Matthews (who else?) set up Joe Thornton for a fluky goal. 4-1 Toronto.
Yes, I know I’m supposed to make a joke about Toronto being ahead 4-1 here. Nobody has ever come back from that, etc. etc. But those jokes are old now. 4-1 is so... 2013. Now, blowing an even bigger lead? That would be embarrassing. Too bad the Leafs would never do that.
As has become tradition, the Sens collapsed after that goal. Hogberg had to make some good saves as Toronto just kept bringing the offense. Ottawa did manage to spend a bit of time in the offensive zone eventually, but they only got one legitimately scary chance - a nice shot from Josh Norris.
The White-Dadonov line got a few good looks at the net with about 5 minutes left in the frame, and the Sens looked a tiny bit better after that, but they didn’t exactly look great. It felt like all their good chances were over within seconds, while the Leafs just kept applying pressure in the Sens’ zone.
Connor Brown went to the box with just over two minutes left in the period. The Sens’ penalty kill was predictably bad, and it took just over a minute for Artem Zub to join his teammate in the penalty box. The Leafs had a 5-on-3, and guess what happened. 5-1 Toronto.
You don’t want to know who scored, but I’ll bet you can guess.
That guy has a knack for scoring multiple goals in losses to the Ottawa Senators, doesn’t he? But I’m getting ahead of myself here.
Of course, a Toronto hockey team did recently blow a 5-1 lead, so it’s not like the Sens were completely without hope. But with the way they were playing, a win certainly didn’t look very likely. They’d need a miracle. A colossal screw up on the part of the Leafs. An epic collapse the likes of which we haven’t seen in a long time. Too bad that would never happen.
Nick Paul promptly answered the call, giving me and all Sens fans a tiny bit of hope with the Sens’ first shorthanded goal of the year. 5-2 Toronto heading into the third.
The third got off to pretty much the best possible start. Artem Zub jumped out the penalty box and immediately got a breakaway, scoring his first NHL goal. His celly was also adorable. This is the kind of thing that keeps you watching. Because the Sens certainly weren’t going to win this game or anything.
That would be ridiculous.
Almost immediately after that goal, Chabot got high sticked and it drew blood! Hell yeah. The Sens began a four minute powerplay.
Not only did the Senators fail to score on the double minor: they came very close to giving up a shorthanded goal on multiple occasions. Just as the penalty expired, though, White fed Connor Brown for the Sens’ fourth goal of the game. 5-4 Toronto.
I think we might have ourselves a hockey game here.
The play was absolutely electrifying from then on. The Leafs got a lot of good chances, Stützle almost scored, and Sens fans were absolutely losing their minds. The Sens weren’t winning yet, but they were certainly making things interesting.
Don’t you just love cheering for a young team?
Hogberg definitely kept the Sens in the game after that, but the team in front of him looked worlds better than it had in the first period.
With just over 7 minutes left, Zaistev blocked a shot with his face, but he seemed alright afterward, returning to the game soon afterward. I can’t say the Sens were the better team during this period, but they certainly made things interesting, and that’s just about all we could ask for.
Ottawa pulled Hogberg with about 2 and a half minutes left, and Evgenii Dadonov evened the score within seconds.
Yeah, I haven’t celebrated a Sens goal that enthusiastically in a very long time.
Gotta love the Leafs.
The clock ran out, the game went to overtime, and the kids took to the ice to finish off the game. I can’t remember the last time I was this invested in the result of a Sens game. I needed this win. For hater reasons.
And the goddamn Ottawa Senators, those absolutely beautiful human beings, gave me the win I so desperately needed. Dadonov scored, again, on a breakaway, the Sens celebrated like they’d just won a playoff series (so did I, to be fair), and all was right in the world.
Everything about this game was perfect. The “cup contender” Leafs blowing a 5-1 lead to the 2021 Ottawa Senators? Maybe the funniest thing that has ever happened. The fact that this is the first 4-goal comeback in Senators history? Incredible. That win will sustain me for months. Maybe years. I will never get off this high. Just the ultimate hater win.
And we get to do it all again in two days.
Say what you will about the 2021 Ottawa Senators, but man, they really know which games are important.
- What more is there to say about Artem Zub? He is perfection. He is our saviour. Maybe the best hockey player of all time.
- Evgenii Dadonov had a great game, and of course I have to give him a shoutout for the tying goal and the OT winner. Fitting that Daddy would play so well on family day.
- Stützle didn’t score in this one, but his playmaking skills were on full display. One of the only players who seemed capable of holding on to the puck for extended periods of time.