More late heroics as Senators edge Panthers

The fantastic finishes continue for the Ottawa Senators.

More late heroics as Senators edge Panthers
Colorado Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson, left, and Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Lee Stempniak, right, vie for the puck during the second period of an NHL hockey game on Sunday, April 6, 2014, in Denver. The Penguins won 3-2 in a shootout. (AP Photo/Chris Schneider)

The Ottawa Senators are proving time and again that hockey truly is a 60-minute game.

The Senators pulled out yet another final minute victory Thursday, defeating the Florida Panthers 4-3 on Nick Foligno’s winning goal with only 2.5 seconds remaining.

Foligno’s goal capped a frantic finish, when three goals were scored in the final 2:07.

It was the fourth consecutive victory for the Senators, improving their record to 5-5, a spot which scarcely seemed possible when they were sitting with a 1-5 record early last week, licking their wounds following a 7-2 spanking by the Philadelphia Flyers.

In the Senators’ previous home game last Saturday, they pulled out a 4-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets when Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek — with 4.7 seconds left — scored in the final minute.

“We definitely have a knack for winning in dramatic fashion this year,” said Foligno, whose goal resulted from a pair of Panthers turnovers and a fantastic play by Senators rookie defenceman David Rundblad. “It’s the way we play. It’s our systems, our conditioning level. We’re fresh. We skated a lot in (training camp) and I just feel we play right to the last whistle.”

The teams were deadlocked 2-2 after two periods. Stephane Da Costa and Daniel Alfredsson had scored for the Senators, while Jason Garrison and Stephen Weiss had replied for the Panthers.

The Senators pushed hard for the winning goal early in the period, but both Panthers rookie goaltender Jacob Markstrom and Senators netminder Craig Anderson made timely saves to keep the game tied through most of the third.

Then came the fireworks.

Colin Greening beat Markstrom with 2:07 remaining and the Senators appeared on their way to a 3-2 victory. Not so fast. With Markstrom on the bench for an extra skater, Kris Versteeg tied the game again with only 48 seconds remaining.

As overtime loomed, however, Rundblad made what captain Daniel Alfredsson described as an “unbelievable play at the blueline,” a play the captain said “takes guts.”

The Panthers couldn’t clear the puck. Markstrom stopped Alfredsson, but Foligno pounced on the loose puck for the game winner. Once again, the Scotiabank Place crowd left in a giddy mood, realizing the Senators had saved the best for the last two seconds.

“It’s a lot of fun, isn’t it?” said coach Paul MacLean.

Well, it’s certainly a lot more fun than staring at a 1-5 record, which is where the Senators stood not so long ago.

“With the start we had (to the season) and the growing pains we had early, to get back to .500 is a tremendous credit to our team as a whole,” MacLean said. “And I think a tremendous credit to our veterans who have really solidified their game and made it way easier for young players to come and play.”

* * * * *

WHY THEY WON: Nick Foligno is the latest Senator with the magic stick, scoring the game winner with only 2.5 seconds left. Only seconds earlier, Kris Versteeg had tied the game for Florida.

STUD: Craig Anderson, Senators. The Senators goaltender wasn’t quite as busy as Florida netminder Jakob Markstrom, but made the crucial stops at the crucial moments. Anderson, a former Panther, is now 5-0-1 against his former team.

DUD: Ed Jovanovski, Panthers. The veteran defenceman will be thinking about this one for awhile. Before Foligno’s game winning goal, Jovanovski coughed up the puck inside the blueline, giving the Senators a second chance at the loose puck. Jovanovski finished the night minus-two.

WHO NEEDS A POWER PLAY?: Daniel Alfredsson’s first period goal and Stephane Da Costa’s second period goal both came on delayed penalty calls against Florida, allowing the Senators to throw an extra player on the ice. Alfredsson’s goal came after Erik Gudranson hooked Nick Foligno and there was a question whether Foligno would have been awarded a penalty shot.

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