And so it was that I settled into watching a hockey game between the Senators and Maple Leafs on a Saturday evening. The stakes had never been higher: it would mark the first Hockey Night in Canada between these teams since I'd moved in with my Leafs-lovin' cousin. Oh, and Ottawa needed all the points they could get in the quest to catch the Bruins for the final playoff spot.
The game started with two quick powerplays for the Sens, one caused by Mike Hoffman (newly demoted to the fourth line) stickhandling around the blueline, and one caused by Jean-Gabriel Pageau racing for a loose puck. Unfortunately, the best scoring chance on either powerplay was for Leo Komarov who dodged an Erik Karlsson hip-check to set up a good short-handed chance that was broken up by Patrick Wiercioch. There was also an early fight, when Zach Sill clothes-lined Eric Gryba without call, but Gryba took exception and fought him.
Alex Chiasson would pick up a pass just outside his blueline, and make it all the way to the Leafs' end on an impressive individual effort. He'd go make it around an attempted Morgan Rielly hip-check into the corner, and then throw a saucer pass out to Hoffman in the slot. Hoffman would make no mistake, ripping it past James Reimer. I was still in shock that Chiasson had pulled off such an impressive end-to-end rush. The video below captures the impressiveness of Hoffman's shot, but you need to wait until the replay to see Chiasson's full effort.
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The only other goal of the period came off the stick of the captain. Matt Puempel (pronounced "Poo-empel" according to NHL 14) and Mika Zibanejad would break in 2-on-1, but with an uncovered Karlsson on the ice, it quickly became a 3-on-1. Zibanejad passed the puck cross-ice to Karlsson who had all day to put it in the net over a sprawling Andrew MacWilliam. If you'd never heard of MacWilliam before this game, me neither.
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That would do it for scoring in the first period, in which the Sens also took the shots lead 16-9.
The second period didn't work out so well for Ottawa. Just under three minutes in, a Dion Phaneuf floater from the point was tipped by Joakim Lindstrom past Andrew Hammond. It's hard to know who to fault on this goal. Eric Gryba and Mark Borowiecki ended up covering each other on the play, but Hammond made himself small on the play. He was screened, but both his glove and his blocker were around his waist when the puck went in, giving him next to no chance of making a positional save.
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It took only 27 seconds for the Sens to respond though, when Curtis Lazar ripped a wrist shot home from the top of the circle. It was the first goal of Lazar's career from further than one foot away from the net, and he looked happy about it.
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That would do it for Reimer's night, with Jonathan Bernier coming on in relief. I was a little surprised, since Reimer's 15 saves on 18 shots wasn't bad, but the Leafs looked like they needed a spark. It seemed to work, or at least it confused the Senators. The Leafs would hem the Sens in for good chunks of play. This led to Kyle Turris making a terrible blind pass from the corner onto the stick of Zach Sill, who left it for Leo Komarov to rip top-shelf.
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Bobby Ryan would take a goaltending interference penalty, which led to some anxious moments but no tying goal for the Leafs. Sportsnet highlighted Dave Cameron ripping into his players during the TV timeout before the PK. However, it didn't solve everything, because the Leafs would get on the board again. Turris would flip a loose puck up the boards from his own corner to Tim Erixon who was unguarded at the point. Erixon's point shot would find its way through, and suddenly the game was tied.
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Erixon would return the favour though by taking a high-sticking penalty behind the play. Ottawa's powerplay looked pretty terrible for the first 80 seconds, but some late pressure gave Mark Stone a chance. The left side of the net was open, but Stone got the puck just behind the goal line and couldn't stuff it in. The puck would make its way back the point, where Wiercioch dished to Karlsson, who faked the slapshot before passing it cross-seam to Turris. Bernier wouldn't have time to get set for the shot, and Turris fired it home.
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It was nice to see a goal for a guy who'd seen two giveaways earlier in the period end up in the back of his own net. That would do it, with not much happening in the final minute of the period. The Sens managed to salvage the period, clawing back to only being down 12-9 in shots, and still having a one-goal lead entering the third. It was also announced in the period that Milan Michalek had suffered an upper-body injury and would not return.
The third period looked good for Ottawa, and was far more cautious than the first two. Ottawa would get two more powerplays and fail to score despite looking far better than most of the PPs earlier in the game. Toronto would look every bit like a lottery team, mustering only four shots in the period, two of which came in the final minute of play. Turris would ice the game on an empty-netter, giving him back-to-back two-goal games (and a two-game empty-net goal streak). Hammond would also pick up his first career NHL point on that one. Ottawa wins a close one, 5-3.
Sens Hero: Curtis Lazar
He was part of the hottest line of the night, but for all the talk that Pageau and Erik Condra have got lately, Lazar deserves credit for tonight. He was fourth among forwards in even-strength ice-time tonight, playing in big situations and being rewarded with the prettiest goal of his young NHL career.
Honourable Mention: Mike Hoffman and Alex Chiasson
These guys looked they had a bit of a bromance going in the first, with Chiasson making a great play to set up Hoffman for his goal, and then Chiasson finding Hoffman with a stretch pass late in the period for another great scoring chance. The injury to Michalek messed up any chemistry they were finding. I've definitely been on the group thinking Zack Smith should come in and replace Chiasson when he's back, but I have to think that if Chiasson keeps playing like he did tonight for stretches, it'll be a whole lot harder.
Redemption Award: Kyle Turris
Turris made two mistakes that led directly to goals in the second. It's unfair to pinpoint individual bad plays that lead to goals, since most don't, but Turris' still deserved some flack. However, he responded by scoring two goals, getting him back to neutral overall on the game.
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