Tonight's game felt like a must-win and the Sens came out looking a bit tentative for the first half or so of the first period. The whole first period felt a bit disjointed, in fact. Though it was scoreless, there was a fair bit of anxiety and nervousness in the air. After the game, Dave Cameron would be quoted as saying:
"This was a pressure game. You can't practice pressure." Dave Cameron #Sens— Murray Pam (@Pammerhockey) March 11, 2015
Who knows, it's hard to guess at the why of sports psychology but the team did look a bit tight at the outset. When they did loosen up, unfortunately, it was already 1-0 early in the second and it was 3-0 before the end of the second frame. In between the start of the game and that dispiriting second intermission Ottawa was the better team, outshooting the Bruins by a 29-18 count, but suffered from a couple of unfortunate collapses. Cody Ceci was victimized by Loui Eriksson's great individual effort to make it 2-0 after Spooner had potted one on the power play, and that was really the goal that broke the team's back. The 14 minutes between the Ryan Spooner goal and the Eriksson goal were almost all Ottawa and it seemed only a matter of time before the dam broke. Alas, Rask held firm.
The third period went how most third periods go when one team leads by three goals: play took place exclusively in that team's end. Boston managed a measely four shots while the Senators pushed away at it. Matt Puempel got his first career NHL goal off a rebound from a Patrick Wiercioch shot, and there were several other grade A scoring chances, but ultimately the deficit of the second period proved to be too much.
Everything feels worse than it really is because of the magnitude of the game itself. That's really the only way I can explain how disappointing of a loss this was. The Ottawa Senators came into game 65 of the regular season against the Boston Bruins on an absolute tear, a play-off appearance suddenly, amazingly, within their grasp. Things had gone so well for so long that when they didn't go so well tonight, it felt abnormally worse. It's important to remember all that when we look back on this game, just one of eighty-two in the grand scheme of things, because the Sens deserved a better fate than they got tonight. "Excuses are for losers", yada-yada. Whatever. The Sens held the Bruins to 22 shots and fired 40 of their own at the net. And it's not like their shots were lacking in quality either, as the three posts they hit behind Tuukka Raask will attest. It just wasn't their night. Really, the shame in all of this is that took Ottawa the first fifty games of the season to find this line-up that works so well. If the hole proves to be too deep to dig out from for this group, now seven points back with 17 games remaining, it won't be from a lack of quality play. I like this team, and I like their chances of making it close right until the end.
Sens Hero: Matt Puempel
For his first career NHL goal, and some solid play throughout, Puempel deserved this status tonight.
Whether it was with Curtis Lazar or Matt Puempel down the stretch, the Pageau-Condra duo was fantastic again tonight. They attacked with speed and generated a number of chances. The Puempel goal was the culmination of a strong cycle led by Pageau.
Honourable Mention: Patrick Wiercioch
One of Wiercioch's best games all year; he moved the puck confidently, jumped into the rush adeptly on several occassions and even defended well when called upon. He finished -1 on the night but it's awfully hard to blame him for either goal against that he was on for.
Sens Killer: Tuukka Rask and the posts
The biggest thing that stood between Ottawa and a win tonight was the Bruins' goalie and his posts. Rask made a number of fantastic saves and when the puck did get by him he got a little help from his friends. Boston was opportunistic, and credit where it's due there, but the goalie play and the puck luck was the difference tonight.