If you were one of the hundreds of poor schmucks who poured to the exits with two minutes left in the Columbus Blue Jackets - Ottawa Senators game Saturday night (or flipped over to the World Series game or god forbid the Leafs-Habs game), you missed one of the most memorable moments in the 20 year history of the Ottawa franchise.
After what was a pretty lacklustre 59 minutes of hockey by both clubs, the Senators scored twice in the final 37 seconds to snatch a victory in a game that neither team really deserved to win. But that is getting ahead of ourselves, lets start at the beginning.
THE WARM UP
Columbus came into the game as the NHL’s only winless team, having lost the night before to the Detroit Red Wings. The Blue Jackets were without two of their top off season acquisitions, as James Wisniewski completed the final game of his 8 game suspension for a headshot on Cal Clutterbuck in the pre-season. Also out of the lineup was centre Jeff Carter, who missed his second straight game with a fractured foot. Ottawa won its last contest 4-1 over the Winnipeg Jets and looked to win consecutive games for the first time this season.
THE FIRST PERIOD
The two clubs got off to a slow start as they went through the feeling out process that teams often do when they play each other so infrequently. Ottawa got the first break as they were awarded a power play after David Savard slid into the post, knocking the net off its moorings behind Steve Mason. The referee deemed it intentional and sent Savard off for delay of game. After operating a pretty smooth power play to no avail for almost a minute, Filip Kuba was found cross ice by Jason Spezza and the much maligned defenseman fired a wrister top corner to give the Senators the lead. It didn’t last long though, as 7 minutes later the Blue Jackets got even when former Sen Vinnie Prospal‘s wrister was stopped by Craig Anderson but the puck trickled through his pads, and the puck was laying there for Aaron Johnson to make the easy tap in. A minute later, Mika Zibanejad got physical and nailed former Sen Cody Bass from behind. They were able to kill the penalty off without incident and the teams went to the dressing room tied at one, with Columbus outshooting Ottawa 8-6.
THE SECOND PERIOD
The ice wasn’t even dry to open the second period when the Blue Jackets took the lead for the first time in the game. The entire Senators’ forward line got caught up ice and Columbus executed a perfect 4-on-2, and trailer Kris Russell took the Ryan Johansen pass and beat Anderson 16 seconds in. Russel got the shot off just before a backchecking Spezza could lift his stick on the play. Then the line of Zach Smith, Chris Neil and Erik Condra took over, as Neil had a string of shifts where he was a man possessed. His physical play, most notably a crushing open ice hit on John Moore, seemed to turn the tide. Then it was that line whose cycling in the offensive end resulted in Smith tying the game with 8:30 left when he converted a feed from Condra. That was it for the second, as the teams left the ice in the same situation that they did 20 minutes earlier, this time tied at 2.
THE THIRD PERIOD
The Senators played a much better third period and took the game to the Blue Jackets. They had a number of quality scoring chances, but it was a Rick Nash wrist shot from the top of the circle that put the Jackets up about 9 minutes in. On the power play, Nash’s shot just plain beat Anderson far side. Anderson appeared to be down early on the play and it was a shot that probably should have been stopped. it appeared as though Mason would steal the game, as his play in the third was great. After David Rundblad took a hooking penalty with two and a half minutes left, it appeared to be over, and the exodus of fans began. However, for the second straight game is was the captain, Daniel Alfredsson, who turned the tide with an offensive zone turnover. Last game he picked off a pass and went in to score to give the Senators a 3-1 lead against the Jets. This time, he stole the puck from Russell just inside the Columbus blue line, and went in alone on Mason. Alfie was hooked down by Russell, but still almost managed to beat the Blue Jackets netminder, who got a toe on the attempt. The penalty made it 4-on-4, and allowed Ottawa to get a chance to pull the goalie and get a de-facto man advantage. Erik Karlsson‘s point shot was tipped my Milan Michalek, and Mason made the save. However, Spezza was on the doorstep and knocked in the rebound to tie the game at 3, with 37 seconds left. Timing was key on this play also as there was still 5 seconds left in Rundblad’s penaly meaning Ottawa would still get a power play for the rest of the game after he got out, with Russell still locked up in the Sin Bin. With under 10 seconds left in regulation, Spezza fed a pass to Sergei Gonchar at the point. Gonchar’s quick wrister was tipped in front by Michalek and eluded Mason, giving the Senators an improbable victory with 5 seconds left in the game. The goal sent the remaining fans into a frenzy as the unlikely comeback was complete. Ottawa outshot Columbus 15-6 in the third period, continuing their tradition of dominating the final 20 minutes of games.
POST GAME SHOW
* * *
SENSHOT’S THREE STARS
3. Daniel Alfredsson, OTT – no points, but one forechecking play facilitated the unlikeliest of comebacks
2. Jason Spezza, OTT – a goal and two assists, 55% in the faceoff circle including key wins late in the game
1. Chris Neil, OTT – An assist and 5 hits as the winger proves his worth yet again this season
Here are the GAME HIGHLIGHTS from NHL.com
While it certainly wasn’t pretty and was not the ideal way to come away with a victory, ask your nearest Montreal fan, (or Columbus fan if you can find one) if they would take that victory. I am sure you would get a resounding YES. Ottawa won back to back games for the first time this season and improved their record to 3-5. They are in a logjam for 10th place in the conference, 2 points behind 8th place Carolina. I know it is early in the season, but the longer the Senators can keep within striking distance of the 8th spot while they are still in a learning cuve, the better their chances of making the post-season. As the saying goes, you can’t clinch a playoff spot in October, but you sure can lose one. The Senators are doing a good job of clawing and scratching their way.
Much of the credit for the Senators wins has to go to Chris Neil. He has easily been the Senators most consistent player, and he has single handedly turned the tide in at least 2 of Ottawa’s 3 wins. However, he was given a 10 minute misconduct for trying to escape the grasp of a linesman with just under a minute left in the third period, and may face supplemental discipline for “abuse of an official”. I don’t think that anything will come of it, but the penalty was assessed and the incident will undoubtedly be reviewed by the NHL office.
The Senators are riding the success of the power play, which went 2 for 2 against Columbus. No team has scored more with the man advantage, and their percentage currently ranks them 3rd in the NHL. Milan Michalek, who scored 1 power play goal all last season, now has 4 already this season to lead all NHL players.
Jason Spezza’s 3 point effort moved him into 3rd in NHL scoring, with 11 points in 8 games. Erik Karlsson’s assist moves him into a tie for the league lead among blueliners with Marc-Andre Bergeron and Dion Phaneuf.
Filip Kuba has now matched his goal total from all of last season (2).
Not to sound like a broken record, but Paul MacLean needs to use the combination of Spezza, Alfredsson and Michalek more often during games. I’m not saying they need to play together all the time, but the success of the trio is outstanding when they play together. They score almost every game when they are united, and it pained me to watch the lethargic play during the second period and not to see them together. At the very least, throwing them out there for a couple of shifts would (and has) provide a spark that can turn the tide of games. If you rely on Chris Neil to be the turning point every night, you are asking too much.
The Sens next game is Tuesday evening as they travel to Raleigh, North Carolina to play the Hurricanes for the always fun 1 game road trip.
**Don’t forget to buy your Tickets for SenShot’s Alfie Night in Ottawa on November 11th, 2011. Click here for more details**
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