Senators rally to 3-2 OT win over Canadiens to take 3-1 series lead
The Pesky Sens have returned.
The importance of this game was obvious from the start.
The storyline going into it was retribution. Game three saw an avalanche of penalty minutes, and a continued war of words between coaches, and everyone was expecting this game to pick up where that one left off--especially with the return of Senators defenseman Eric Gryba, who served a two game suspension for a hit on Lars Eller, to the lineup. That did not happen.
Instead, the two teams played a tightly-checked, back-and-forth affair that favored the Canadiens for much of the game. It was obvious that retribution would come on the scoreboard if it was going to come anywhere.
This was partially to be expected, since Montreal is not as bad a team as the 6-1 score in game three would indicate--and they had proven already that they could beat the Senators by winning game two. So, it was no surprise that it was Montreal that owned the first period, peppering thinly-veiled Sens Hero Craig Anderson with shots. In fact, it was almost halfway through the first period before the Senators recorded their first shot on goal--this despite having a power play in the first five minutes of the game.
The Sens had taken the Habs' best shot and walked away tied 0-0 at the end of the first. The tone had been set for the game, and Ottawa had an idea of the level they were going to have to play to in order to win the game. They did not match that play.
Instead, PK Subban rifled a shot high glove side on Anderson just 2:52 into the period. A turnover led to Tomas Plekanec charging hard up the ice and Subban trailing the play. Plekanc found Subban and Subban had a clean lane to shoot. There was absolutely no chance for Anderson on the goal--it was a perfect shot.
Just one minute and two seconds later, the Canadiens would strike again, this time on the opposite side. Jeff Halpern would pickpocket Cory Conacher and feed Alex Galchenyuk to create a 2-on-1. With Cowen pressuring him, Galchenyuk was able to fire an equally perfect shot to beat Anderson on the other side of the net. And just like that, it was 2-0 for the visiting team.
At this point, I was prepared to write that the Senators were simply unable to match Montreal's intensity in this game. Montreal was winning every battle, presenting an absolutely relentless forecheck--seriously, it was like a video game, forcing turnovers behind the Ottawa net--and lining up four guys on their own blueline to force Ottawa to dump and chase, rather than playing their puck possession game. It was not just an outstanding road game, it was an outstanding bounce-back game.
Thankfully, there's 60 minutes to the game, and the Senators began to wake up and create some pressure of their own. A strong cycle from the line of Colin Greening, Zack Smith, and Chris Neil began to give Ottawa some energy, but it was not enough. With excellent defense, Carey Price did not have to be superlative--he merely had to be solid, and he was. His defensemen did the rest, and the Senators had no chance at any of the few rebounds he allowed.
Still, Ottawa had managed to stop the bleeding, and went into the third period down just two goals and with plenty of power play time and fresh ice to work with.
Of course, they had nothing to show for it. It was going to take a little luck for the Senators to win this game, and at 11:55 of the third, that's exactly what they got. Z. Smith won a faceoff back to Sergei Gonchar, who fired a puck wide of the net. Neil charged over to get the puck and flung it across the ice--he saw Mika Zibanejad, moved to wing, driving the Montreal net. The puck went off Zibanejad's stick, then skate, and into the net.
And that meant a review.
I was sure the play would be overturned. Watching the review, you can clearly see that Zibanejad's foot is moving towards the net. However, what you cannot clearly see is if he is kicking or stopping. The motion is there, but it is not distinct enough to clearly discern what happened. With no clear evidence that the puck was kicked, the call on the ice could not be overturned, and the Sens were back in the game.
My personal opinion is that it was kicked and Zibanejad was lucky enough to disguise it. But, you know what? The Senators have a little saved up in the old karma bank (Andre Benoit's disallowed goal, Brendan Gallagher's phantom missing instigator, this, this, and this) and if they cashed in a chip tonight, Montreal has absolutely no credible grounds to complain about it.
Of course, the Sens still needed a tying goal, and with Anderson on the bench, that's exactly what they got. With time winding down, Erik Karlsson laid a nice pass in for thinly-veiled Sens Hero Kyle Turris. Turris found Conacher on the open wing, and Conacher in turn fed thinly-veiled Sens Hero Daniel Alfredsson. The Habs, as they had all night, quickly converged on Alfie, giving him no shot, but he kept control of the puck and went behind the net with it. Then, Alfie made the savvy play, using the crowd to his advantage, as he put the puck in front of the net against his momentum--catching everyone except Conacher off guard. Conacher, not part of the net battle, saw the play and quickly moved up to get the pinballing puck onto his stick. He roofed it to send the game to overtime.
The Senators would cash in another karmic chip when Price would suffer an injury on the last shot of the game. After Anderson made one more big stop, Zibanejad rushed up the ice and fired a Zibanejad special--a slapper from far out--that forced Price to make a save. He left the ice holding his left leg, and Peter Budaj started overtime.
Overtime is, of course, Turris time, as just 2:32 in, Turris fired a wrist shot that deflected off of Raphael Diaz--#61 to Paul MacLean--past Budaj. This is the second Game 4 OT in two years where Kyle Turris has scored the game winner. That's pretty good if you ask anyone.
Ottawa now heads back to Montreal with the first of three chances to close out the series.
Sens Hero: Craig Anderson
Only saved 26 of 28 (92.9%) of the shots he faced, which is a sub-par game for him this season, but the Canadiens had to beat him with perfect shots. Things could have gone sideways for Ottawa in a hurry without Anderson in net, and the fact that they were able to outshoot Montreal 13-4 in the third period to complete the comeback doesn't happen if Anderson doesn't keep the score within reach. The difference between Anderson and every other goalie in team history is that Anderson consistently gives his team a chance to win. Friggin' hero.
Sens Hero: Daniel Alfredsson
The scoresheet will only reflect one assist, on Conacher's tying goal, but Alfie led this team when he had to. There was very little panic from the team at any point in this game, and that's a reflection of their captain. They were getting crushed early, and they didn't roll over. They couldn't get any sustained offensive zone pressure with Anderson pulled, yet they didn't rush the play up the ice with less than a minute left in the game down a goal. And Alfie didn't rush the puck when he didn't have a shot at the end of the game. He took his time and made a clever play that worked out. This win doesn't happen without Alfredsson.
Sens Hero: Kyle Turris
Turris is now on a two-game goal-scoring streak. He also recorded an assist on Conacher's goal, but it's his clutch play that really stands out for me. Turris, who is not a physical guy, was credited with six hits--tied with Marc Methot for third on the team--in what was a decidedly tightly-checked game. That tells me that this was a player who was willing to sacrifice his body to help his team. In addition, Turris drew a penalty on Subban, giving his team a power play to open the third, and crushed it in the faceoff circle. Games like this make me love Turris. When he finds a way to put it all together, he does it in a really noticeable way: You know who the only other player in Senators history to have multiple playoff OT GWGs is? Alfie, that's who. Not bad company.
Honorable Mentions: Eric Gryba, Chris Neil, Cory Conacher
Gryba did not look out of place in the game, committed no major mistakes, drew a penalty, and had seven hits. Neil had 10(!) and the hustle to win a loose puck and the heads-up notion to throw it to Zibanejad. Conacher tried to do a little too much on the Galchenyuk goal, but atoned for it with a huge goal that showcased why general manager Bryan Murray traded for him: He's smart enough to find scoring areas, willing to be tough enough to go to those scoring areas, and skilled enough to score in them. He'll probably always look better in the playoffs than he does in the regular season.
Honorable mention: Mika Zibanejad
Wasn't having a great game at center and so got moved to wing with two energy guys. There's two ways to take that: As a demotion and get down on yourself, or as an opportunity to let those guys create space for you. Zibanejad did the latter and his game looked a lot better after that. I loved, loved, loved that the kid showed he is willing to play wherever he's asked if it helps the team. What a difference in attitude between him and a certain dynamic young player for Montreal.
Sens Zero: Milan Michalek
I hate to do this, but Michalek looked like a passenger in this game. It's not that he's bad, and it's not that he's hurt, it's just that he doesn't seem to have any chemistry with his linemates right now. If he's not sprung away with a pass, he's not really creating offense. Thankfully, that hasn't been a factor--yet. But I'd really like to see Michalek stand out more, even if I know that's unrealistic without a playmaker like Jason Spezza to support him.
A word on Erik Karlsson: I would have given him a zero for this game--despite an assist on the GWG--if I didn't know he was still recovering from an injury that would end most players' seasons. But production is relative, and so Karlsson only warrants mention because we know he's just not the same player he can be yet. And it doesn't matter because this team is deep enough now not to depend on him. That's exciting to think about.
Highlights (just skip to the end)