The reeling Ottawa Senators played host to the Pittsburgh Penguins, in a game that the Sens desperately needed to win in order to keep some distance between them and the chasing Capitals and Sabres. Ben Bishop got the start against Brad Thiessen, starting in place of Marc-Andre Fleury, who was resting for the divisional game against New Jersey on Sunday. Another change to the lineup was Matt Carkner back in for the less than impressive Matt Gilroy.
After a shocking and extended rendition of the National Anthems – opera style – the game finally got going.
Milan Michalek opened the scoring near the midway mark of the opening frame, but the lead was short-lived as Matt Cooke scored a pair, 40 seconds after Michalek and then again just over 3 minutes after that on a nice spin-o-rama pass from Sidney Crosby. The period ended that way, which gave the Senators some hope given the way they have played lately.
Ottawa had some jump early in the second, when Sergei Gonchar slipped in and put a nice pass from Nick Foligno past Thiessen just 33 seconds into the period. Ottawa added a pair of quick ones from Chris Phillips (on the power play) and then Kyle Turris 36 seconds apart to put the home side up 2 goals. Tyler Kennedy responded quickly though, bringing the Pens closer just 14 seconds after Turris. A couple of minutes after Kennedy’s goal, Bishop made an awkward save and ended up leaving the game with a lower body injury, bringing in Craig Anderson cold. Daniel Alfredsson on a short-handed breakaway restored the 2 goal lead, going top shelf on the Pens backup.
For the first half of the period, Ottawa was content in running down the clock by cycling in the offensive end and playing solid in their own end. A Crosby goal with just over 8 minutes left pulled the Pens back within 1, but Ottawa shut that rally down with a Jason Spezza breakaway from his own blue line, followed by Alfredsson and then Greening to make the final a rather convincing 8-4 victory.
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SENSHOT’S THREE STARS
3. Milan Michalek – 1 G, 2A
2. Nick Foligno – 3A in his promotion to the second line.
1. Daniel Alfredsson – 2G, 2A
If I had told you at 7:00 Saturday night that there would be 12 goals scored in the game, Ottawa would use 2 goalies and Erik Karlsson and Jason Spezza would have no points combined for the first 53 minutes of the game, you would have bet the farm that Pittsburgh would win the game.
These are the types of performances that are encouraging and make it tough to believe that the Sens are still fighting for their playoff lives. Why this Senators team plays well against the better teams in the league and can play stinkers against divisional rivals like Toronto and Montreal is befuddling to me.
This game won’t contain many highlights in the Norris Trophy reel for Erik Karlsson. The young Swede struggled for much of the game, but was bailed out in most instances. Crosby’s pass to Cooke in the first period was against Karlsson, but there are not many defensemen in the league who could have defended the play, it was that special.
With the win, the Senators stay two points up on Buffalo (who also won), move 4 ahead of Washington and also keep the Panthers in play (should Washington catch them) and move back within 1 point of Boston (pending their late game in LA – EDIT – Boston’s win keeps them 3 points ahead of Ottawa).
A win over Winnipeg on Monday would essentially end the Jets’ chances of catching the Senators, and for all but eliminate them from playoff contention. Winnipeg plays really well at home and it won’t be an easy game.