With nothing of real consequence left to play for, the Ottawa Senators nonetheless geared up for a match-up against one of the NHL's best teams in the Carolina Hurricanes. Well, there was nothing of consequence to play for when it came to this team's play-off chances. There was, as it turns out, plenty to play for when it came to the decorated career of one Claude Giroux.
If you're reading this site, you likely already knew that Giroux was closing in on 1,000 career regular season points. With 75 points in 80 games, Giroux required only two from the final two games of the season to reach the hallowed mark. He didn't waste much time to get to 999:
If you wanted to make a case for the power of chemistry, the Giroux-Stutzle-Tkachuk line is it. Each is a great player in their own right, but the combination of their particular skill sets makes for something special that is greater than the sum of their parts. It has been written at length this year, but they really did form one of the very best trios in the league this year.
Each subsequent shift for the top line was greeted by a buzz throughout the crowd. Maybe it's the hindsight talking, but it felt like folks were anticipating a big moment. They didn't have to wait long to get what they came for:
I particuarly enjoyed Brady Tkachuk summoning the whole bench to join in the celebration. The vibes were, as they say, immaculate. Even Mads Søgaard joined in, despite some apprehension about whether or not he might get a penalty for doing so. We simply love to see it.
After the first period, the only thing that I could say was missing was a chance at a play-off spot. Otherwise, for a Monday night, this was pretty great Ottawa Senators hockey.
The second period didn't go quite as well, and the Hurricanes cut the lead to one at 4v4 thanks to a Brett Pesce snap shot. Artem Zub, Jake Sanderson, and Alex DeBrincat were all within some proximity of Pesce when he scored but instead combined to botch the coverage. It was also a nice shot.
The bad news is that Carolina found a way to equalize early in the third via a Brent Burns power play tally and while it would have been impossible to totally dampen the mood, a tie game did not feel as good as a Sens win. Luckily, Ottawa righted the ship before the third was halfway done. Erik Brännström made a nice play in the neutral zone to break up the 'Canes rush, fed a pass to Shane Pinto, who slipped a backhand to the trailing Giroux and, well, you know the rest:
With the lead back in hand, the Sens needed to survive a bit of penalty-related silliness (the teams combined for 11 power play opportunities), and weather a real storm for just over ten minutes.
Søgaard, who could not be blamed for either goal but had otherwise not been particularly challenged, made a couple of spectacular saves in the dying minutes with Carolina's net empty to preserve the lead.
The Hurricanes, one of the best teams in the league, very much had something to play for with their play-off seeding far from guaranteed. For the Sens to play them basically even, and come out on top, is a nice feather in the cap for this group.
Yet the real story, again, was Giroux reaching the 1,000 point milestone. After the game, Sens' social media team had a nice video tribute to Giroux at the ready:
And that's all she wrote for the home portion of the Sens' schedule! Last one on the road on Thursday in Buffalo!
-Søgaard has certainly had his ups and downs in the NHL this season, but count his performance tonight as one of the high points. He wasn't overly challenged in the early going but he made several key saves in back half of the third period as the Sens were hanging onto the lead. 27 saves on 29 shots is a tidy bit of work.
-The power play's struggles of late continued, and the Sens are now all the way down to 9th in the league at 23.2%. There has been much debate throughout the year of the relative merits of Sanderson vs. Thomas Chabot as the 1st unit's QB, and I'm not sure that's necessarily going to go away, but there were times tonight when we were reminded that Sanderson is still not a finished product on the power play. The good news is that if everyone is healthy to start next season, the Sens will have a plethora of options for both units.
-Though the season isn't ending in the way that we all had hoped, we were treated to another large crowd on Fan Appreciation night. In return, the players returned to the ice after the game to sign autographs, and some even stuck around long after to bring a smile to the faces of some young fans: