It’s been a common refrain throughout the season: the goal for the Ottawa Senators this year was to play meaningful games down the stretch. Your definition of meaningful may vary, the Sens remain longshots to qualify for the postseason, but there can be no doubt that tonight’s match-up with the Detroit Red Wings felt different than the type of game Ottawa has played in late February for the last several years. If the game wasn’t meaningful before puck drop, their dominating performance gave tomorrow night’s rematch an added significance.
Before we get to the big celebrations, though, it’s worth remembering the winding road the Sens took to get to their 6-2 victory. It wasn’t that they came out slowly per se, I’d even say they were skating well to start the game, but Ottawa did concede the first goal on a Tyler Bertuzzi breakaway. It was something of a busted coverage, with Bertuzzi sliding behind Thomas Chabot to receive a stretch pass and get in alone on Cam Talbot.
The rest of the first frame saw the Sens awarded two power plays, once after Chabot was boarded by Jonatan Berggren and once after Dylan Larkin gave Drake Batherson a facewash in open ice, but to no avail. Chances were plentiful, the puck was buzzing around with the man advantage, yet former Senator Magnus Hellberg was up to the task.
The start of the second period brought more of the same as the Sens were the beneficiaries of a third chance with the man advantage and this time they made good thanks to a bomb from the point by Jake Sanderson:
Alas, we all know how NHL officiating works in 2023: the Sens had been on the power play three times to the Wings’ zero so Detroit was owed a chance with the man advantage. Just over a minute later Chabot was called for holding, and the Red Wings would capitalize thanks to a David Perron wrister. While you can rarely fault a goalie for allowing a breakaway goal, Talbot looked considerably shakier on the Perron goal and I would be lying if I said that I felt particularly comfortable with his play at the exact moment in time. It wasn’t great!
By now you all know how this one ended, and presumably part of the reason you’re here is to revel in all of the glory of what came next. I’ll cut to the chase:
First the tying goal:
Then, the go-ahead goal for Claude Giroux on the breakaway off an absolute dime from ....Dylan Gambrell???
And lastly, Brady Tkachuk on the rush off a disgusting pass from Giroux:
Three goals in less than five minutes transformed the game completely. Momentum is a funny thing; it doesn’t matter until it does. As the middle stanza came to a close, it sure felt like the Sens had all the momentum.
The start of the third period brought with it some old familiar nerves. “Oh so this is what it feels like to watch a game that matters!” Luckily for Sens fans, Chabot extended the advantage early in the frame on a gorgeous rush:
I do not wish to re-ignite additional Chabot Discourse, but I will note that there are very few players in the world that can execute that play.
At any rate, staring at a 5-2 deficit the Red Wings generously rolled over and died. Maybe they were saving themselves for tomorrow night? Either way, Ottawa comfortably out-chanced Detroit in the final frame and even got a late marker from Tim Stützle to cap a 6-2 final.
Coming into this doubleheader, winning both games (preferably in regulation) was the only option for the Sens to remain in the play-off hunt. The first part is done, now onto the next one.
- If Tkachuk “drags his teammates into battle”, then we need to come up with some sort of phrase to describe the inspirational play of Giroux. He doesn’t throw the body around like Tkachuk, but his exemplary contribution has been just as important this year. The Sens are a team chock full of leaders, and Giroux’s addition has only strengthened the group.
- It’s amazing how quickly an NHL game can turn on its head. When the Red Wings scored their second goal, on the power play, my notes read “feels a lot like some of those hard-luck losses from early in the season”. Hard to imagine now, but more than halfway through the game the score was 2-1 for Detroit. When, exactly, the bounces will start going your way is an enduring mystery of the hockey gods. Thankfully they turned Ottawa’s way at exactly the right time.
- One of the most encouraging parts of tonight’s performance was how thoroughly the Sens stomped on the Wings in the third. DJ Smith has been subject to some unfair critiques in his time in Ottawa but one that has always struck me as mostly correct is the team’s tendency to turtle a bit too early when protecting a lead. Not tonight: the Sens generated a seemingly endless stream of chances off the rush thanks to some dedicated defensive play and a willingness to attack, attack, attack in transition. It was encouraging stuff all around.
- The game was very physical, and on a few occasions seemed like things might get a bit out of hand, but cooler heads prevailed. When Tkachuk was yapping at the Detroit bench at the end of the second period, the tension was palpable. Nonetheless, I would be shocked if tomorrow night’s affair doesn’t include a lot banging in the corners and scrums after the whistle. Buckle up./