The Florida Panthers entered tonight’s match-up with the Ottawa Senators on an absolute tear, winners of eight straight at home and 11 of their last 15 overall. Their torrid pace has carried them all the way to the edge of the last play-off spot; to them, every points matters. On top of all this, the Sens were set to play without Mark Stone. This should have been Florida’s game for the taking. Scott Cullen of TSN pegged the Sens’ chances thusly:
Tonight's games: pic.twitter.com/Wqk3PHsj6X— Scott Cullen (@tsnscottcullen) March 12, 2018
But a funny thing happened: the Sens looked like they were the team that was fighting for their play-off lives in the opening frame. Less than a minute into the game, Matt Duchene scored his 20th of the season off a feed from Mike Hoffman:
In fact, for the better part of the period, Ottawa looked, dare I say, good. All four lines contributed some offensive pressure at one point or another and the puck (mostly) exited the Sens’ zone with relative ease. Aside from a bad Mark Borowiecki penalty that led to some sustained pressure against, Anderson wasn’t overly tested.
Before the first period was over, Magnus Paajarvi tipped home a Claesson wrister to give the Sens a 2-0 lead heading to the dressing room. The TSN crew, Gord Miller and Ray Ferraro, commented that this had been a virtually perfect road period for the Sens. I don’t know if I’d have gone quite that far, but all things considered it was pretty damn good.
Ah but the second period, that great bugaboo of the 2017-18 Ottawa Senators. I’m never quite sure if it’s just random noise or something meaningful, but the Sens have been absolutely atrocious in the middle frame of hockey games this season. Maybe it’s something about the long change mucking up The System? Who knows. Either way, this second period was one of the worst of the year -- and that’s saying something! Aside from Cody Ceci striking the post early in the period, there just wasn’t much positive at all to say about how Ottawa played. Eventually, all of the Pathers’ sustained pressure burst through when Evegenii Dadonov blew around Fredrik Claesson and roofed a shot past a stunned looking Craig Anderson 12:36 into the stanza.
It’s hard to tell if the puck kicked off Claesson’s stick or not, I’m inclined to think it did based on Anderson’s reaction, but either way that chance was created entirely by Dadonov’s speed to the outside.
It wasn’t long after that before the Panthers found the equalizer, courtesy of Mike Matheson. Thus, when the dust settled the Sens exited the period tied. Considering shot attempts in the frame were 35-9 in favour of the Panthers, and shots on target were a staggering 17-2, the Sens might even have been a bit lucky to still be tied at all.
With nowhere to go but up in the third for the Sens, Paajarvi potted his second of the game less than a minute in. But if Guy Boucher had been dreaming of a shutdown period to close out the win, he was almost immediately disappointed when Jonathan Huberdeau equalized less than four minutes later. The rest of the period played itself out frenetically, with the two teams trading chances. There was even some bad blood stirred up between Keith Yandle and Jean-Gabriel Pageau after Yandle took exception to a Pageau hit. If this game meant anything at all for Ottawa, the whole thing might have been a lot of fun.
It was at this stage that Sens fans were left in an all-too-familiar predicament: cheer for the win, or for the tank? If you’re on Team Tank At All Costs, you’d have been disappointed by the final three minutes that saw Matt Duchene and then Jean-Gabriel Pageau score in rapid succession to sew up the W.
So the Sens hurt their draft lottery chances. I guess what I’d say is that you can’t literally lose every game, and if you’re gonna win, might as well win the fun ones. I’ll take all the moral victories I can get, personally.
Magnus Paajarvi’s two goal performance was one of his best as a Senator.
Craig Anderson deserves a tonne of credit for keeping the game close when the Sens simply refused to do much of anything in the second period.
Fredrik Claesson and Mark Borowiecki each had their flashes tonight but their play was not nearly good enough on the whole. The Sens badly need more from their non-Karlsson defensemen.