As an Eastern Conference playoff species, it’s awfully hard to know what to wish for these days.
Winning a division might not end up as attractive as a middle of the pack finish that creates a first round opponent from the SouthLeast Division (Ottawa vs. Winnipeg anyone?).
As for matching up against the Northeast’s Boston Bruins in a 2 vs. 7? . . . not so much.
This came to mind watching the Senators take it on the chin yet again, 5-3, from the big, bad Bs on Saturday night, before a packed, nervous crowd at Scotiabank Place. As the Cup champs checked in, they were tantalizingly close in the standings, at 75 points a mere three points ahead of your Senators in the Northeast Division.
And yes, we know, the Bruins have played three fewer games than Ottawa, but they still have to win those extra ones, and having won just four of its past 10 games, Boston has not been as sure a thing from a night to night as it was earlier in the season.
Still, they are the Bruins, and that means they had the attention of a Senators team trying not to panic at the thought that starting goaltender Craig Anderson, arguably the team’s MVP to this point, is sidelined indefinitely with a badly sliced finger.
Backup Alex Auld seemed calm enough. This is what I’m here for, he told us after the morning skate. I’ve been through this before.
Around the room, other Senators said likewise. Alex is a pro. He’s been a starter in the NHL. Been thrown into emergency situations. We’ll be fine.
And they looked fine for most of the first period, getting an early lead on the Bruins on a goal by – who else? — wonder boy Erik Karlsson, clearly destined to rewrite the Senators record books for offensive numbers by a defenceman. Karlsson fell into the corner boards after he scored, a joyous heap.
Even when Auld was touched up for a goal by Bruins centre Patrice Bergeron early in the period, it was no big deal. Tie game. No worries. Auld made the original stop on a Zdeno Chara shot and Bergeron finished the rebound.
But at 16:13 of the first period the air went out of the building, if not the Senators bench, when a routine Brad Marchand wrist shot from the top of the faceoff circle got past Auld for a 2-1 Boston lead. For a minute thereafter, the place was all but silent, until the scoreboard quickly changed the subject, to a losing Maple Leafs score (cheers all around!).
Then early in the second period another goofy one, a shot by rookie centre Carter Camper that might have been going wide, until Auld swiped at it with his goal stick and the puck crossed the line for a 3-1 Bruins advantage. David Krejci added a fourth during a third period flurry, but two bullets from Daniel Alfredsson in the third gave the home team late life.
This morning’s boxscore will suggest Auld was hung out to dry by his team; that he faced nearly 40 Boston shots. And Auld did make some terrific saves, especially on Bergeron and Tyler Seguin.
“I felt in the game, it was nice to see a lot of shots,” said Auld. “But we also play to win.”
What the boxscore can’t express is how the club sagged after that Marchand goal. Fans today should appreciate, if they didn’t already, the huge role Anderson has played backing the Senators to their current status, 7th in the East.
So, now what? Besides, get well quick, Andy.
Senators general manager Bryan Murray had said he would use these two weekend games – the New York Islanders visit on Sunday – prior to Monday’s trade deadline to assess his goaltender situation.
After this one, picture Murray working the phones to pick up someone, if only for further insurance, and because the organization is down one goalie when Robin Lehner is here from AHL Binghamton to fill in for Anderson.
It’s not as though a visit by the Bruins didn’t catch the Senators attention, regardless of the Anderson situation.
“They’re the Stanley Cup champions for a reason,” said centre Jason Spezza. “But we definitely battled them hard.”
Alfredsson noted how well the Bruins clogged up the neutral zone, effectively neutralizing Ottawa’s speed.
“This is a team we’re trying to catch, a division rival and the Stanley Cup champions,” said Auld, the man on the spot. Ottawa gets another chance, sooner than it would probably like, in Boston in Tuesday.
The Bruins haven’t lost here in the friendly confines since April 7, 2009. Goaltender Tim Thomas, who shines in many NHL buildings, but especially here, hadn’t lost here since November of 2009 and has a 9-0-0 run.
With a victory, the Senators could have matched their final point total of last season and pulled within a point of Bruins.
Spezza had called it a “measuring stick game.”
And the Senators, minus Anderson, did not measure up to the defending Stanley Cup champions.