And so it has come to an end.
The Sens closed out the 2021 season the same way they opened it: with a win against the Leafs that I had the pleasure of recapping.
Leafs games just hit different, and after Sunday’s loss to the Flames, we were all itching for one final sicko to close out the season. This game may not have meant anything in the standings, but in our hearts? Oh, in our hearts it meant so much.
Parker Kelly was suiting up for his first NHL game, Sportsnet played a beautiful montage that made us all misty-eyed, and I’m going to leave the commentary about Sportsnet’s coverage of the game at that because I’m trying to stay positive.
Some would say that the Leafs were the better team in this matchup, due to the fact that they were “ahead of the sens in the standings” and “first in the division” and “a playoff team,” but those people failed to consider that the Leafs are also, according to my twitter feed, “poo.” Furthermore, according to my calculations, the Sens are ahead of the Leafs in friendship, good vibes, and the oft-overlooked stat of “hugs/60.” Do not, under any circumstances, fact-check that. Did the Sens have the advantage in possession during the first period? No. Did they get the best scoring chances? Also no. But they had energy and crisp passes and the power of friendship on their side and that, my friends, is all that really matters.
Unfortunately, they also got the first penalty of the game. Brady Tkachuk went to the box on a very dubious interference call, and the Ottawa penalty killers actually did a pretty good job of holding off Toronto’s offense, even getting a nice shorthanded scoring chance and preventing them from registering any shots on goal.
One great Dadonov scoring chance later, the Sens got their own powerplay opportunity, and it looked much nicer than the Leafs’ powerplay. They even got a shot on net! I didn’t know those things were allowed.
Unfortunately, the powerplay did not result in a goal, and the game remained scoreless halfway through the period.
The next penalty went to Ottawa, and it was just as soft as the first one. Apparently it’s a crime to touch Auston Matthews? Where was this energy when the Habs were trying to murder our perfect boy Tim Stützle?
Anyways, the Sens killed off the penalty like pros, and looked like the better team afterward. Stützle was slashed on a fantastic rush to the net, sending Ottawa to yet another powerplay, so I guess I was a little hasty in making that earlier joke.
There must be something to that neutral zone drop pass, because without Chabot there to pull it off, the powerplay just wasn’t working. The game was still scoreless at the end of those two minutes.
However, almost as soon as Toronto’s guy got out of the box, Zaitsev sent a beautiful slapshot right into the top corner of the net. 1-0 Ottawa.
With that goal, the Sens had officially gone an entire season without being shutout! This is our Stanley Cup.
The Sens carried that one goal lead right into the second period. They continued to control the play and very nearly doubled their lead on the penalty kill about five minutes in. It’s good to know that Pageau has been replaced on the penalty kill, even if we still miss him during Habs games.
Unfortunately, despite mostly dominating play during that penalty kill, the Sens did give up the equalizer just as time ran out on the penalty. 1-1.
They soon got a chance to bounce back, though, with a powerplay of their own. So much of this game was being played at 5v4, and the Sens were faring pretty well. They didn’t even manage to finish this powerplay before Logan Brown was sent to the box. It was... another weak penalty, but whatever.
At long last, Connor Brown finally managed his NHL-leading fifth shorthanded goal of the season. Personally, I’m very proud of him for finally accepting that he will never score on a breakaway, and scoring on the rebound instead. That’s called character development. 2-1 Ottawa.
Things only got better from there. On a delayed Leafs penalty, Parker Kelly sent a sneaky shot just past the Leafs’ goaltender. Andersen tried to make up for his failure by throwing the puck out of the net after it had crossed the line, but unfortunately you just can’t do that in the NHL. If I were an NHL goaltender, I would simply not let the puck cross the line in the first place, but I guess Andersen has to compensate for his shortcomings somehow.
It took a few seconds for people to realize that Kelly had scored, but once they did, he got a great celebration for his first NHL goal, complete with a hug from Stützle. Sens players who score their first NHL goals against the 2021 Leafs have a pretty good track record so far, so I have high hopes for this guy. 3-1 Ottawa.
Also, look at this bench celebration! The head pats! This team could not possibly get any more wholesome.
Toronto responded a few minutes later, with John Tavares recording his 19th of the season. If he had only gotten a hat trick in this game, he might have matched Connor Brown’s goal total, but I guess not everyone is destined for greatness. 3-2 Ottawa.
Despite a few more penalties and a late push by the Sens, no more goals were scored during the second period. The Sens went into the third holding a healthy but precarious 1 goal lead.
Stützle came very close to scoring on the first shift of the final frame, but was turned away. Play was relatively even for the first half of the period, with a few good chances being had at each end but nothing going in the net.
A late Senators powerplay failed to produce any results. Unfortunately, Matthews soon scored the equalizer for the Leafs. Who could have possibly predicted that? 3-3.
To their credit, the Sens put a lot of pressure on their opponent in the final two minutes of the game, clearly trying hard to end the game in regulation, but it just wasn’t enough. The game was headed to overtime.
Honestly, I appreciate that. We said we didn’t want the season to end, and the Sens gave us what we wanted. They really are the best boys.
It took less than ten seconds for Josh Norris to score an absolutely beautiful goal to win the Sens’ last game of the season and end things on a good note. It was a fitting end to the season, too: look at that smile! The cute little spin! If that doesn’t sum up this season, I don’t know what does. 4-3 Ottawa.
Was I secretly hoping for a Zub shootout attempt? Yes, but we have to be realistic, here. Only so many good things can happen in one season. We have to save a little bit of excitement for 2021-22.
- Brown, Formenton and Pinto all did great work on the penalty kill.
- Nick Paul had himself a great night, to cap off a great season. I’m really excited to see more of him next year.
- I was impressed with pretty much the entire defense tonight - Chabot leaves a massive hole in this lineup, and to their credit, these boys have really stepped up - but I do want to give a special shoutout to Zaitsev, who obviously scored the Sens’ first goal and had a pretty good game all around.
- Parker Kelly had a really nice NHL debut, complete, of course, with a goal. He’ll make a great bottom-six forward one day.
On a more serious note, I know I’m not alone in being really sad to see this season end. The last few seasons before this one were awful, and I know I’m not the only person who had been struggling to find a reason to care about this team before 2021. I don’t think I have words for how amazing it’s been to see this team become so likable and so easy to cheer for so soon after some of the worst seasons in franchise history, and I’m so glad that I got to enjoy this amazing season alongside all of you. I also know that these last few months have been really difficult for a lot of us for a variety of reasons and, despite the many ethical issues I may have with the NHL’s decision to resume play under these circumstances, watching the Sens play hockey has been a very, very welcome distraction. I honestly don’t know how I would have managed this last semester without the epic highs and lows of Ottawa Senators hockey. Take care, Sens fans. Let’s keep this energy going through the offseason.
I’ll see you all next year for the Run of Unparalleled Success.