Senators, Canadiens just getting started

Blood, sweat and teeth. It has been all that — and so much more, too — and we’re only a mere three games into the best-of-seven opening round NHL playoff series between the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens.

Senators, Canadiens just getting started
Chris Neil talks to the media following an optional practice for the Ottawa Senators at Scotiabank Place. (Wayne Cuddington / Ottawa Citizen)

Blood, sweat and teeth.

It has been all that — and so much more, too — and we’re only a mere three games into the best-of-seven opening round NHL playoff series between the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens.

Before the series, Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson suggested the teams had yet to develop a deep resentment for each other, due to the fact there had been no playoff history. Following Sunday’s 6-1 romp by the Senators and the fight-filled fireworks of the third period though, there’s now no turning back.

Asked after the game if the bridge towards hatred had been crossed, Alfredsson offered up a grin before saying, “Oh, maybe, just maybe.”

At the same time, Alfredsson and his teammates know the battle is far from over. Even after all the rage of the first three games, both on the ice between the players and off the ice between the coaches, the Senators are still only halfway to their end goal of finishing off the Canadiens.

We’ve already seen wild momentum shifts in the series. Neither team has won two games in a row. If the Canadiens can shake off their Game 3 third period meltdown and win Tuesday at Scotiabank Place, they will have turned it into a best of three, with home ice advantage once again.

Accordingly, if Sunday was the most important game of the season for the Senators, Game 4 has now become the most vital contest. A victory Tuesday will back the Canadiens into a dark corner, forcing them to win three consecutive games to take the series.

“We have to be better, it gets harder,” Senators coach Paul MacLean said Monday, a calm during the series storm. “Every game gets harder.”

Star defenceman Erik Karlsson, whose solid Game 3 performance (28:04, two assists, +1) was an improvement from his sloppy, disappointing Game 2, insists the carry-over between games is minimal. Each game takes on its own tone.

“Right now, (the momentum) is nowhere, it’s a day off,” he said. “The next one is a totally different game. We know the third one is harder to win than the second one. We have to come out like we did (Sunday), but even better. They want to prove they’re the better team.”

Still, there’s no denying that hitting has played a significant role from the outset. It began with Eric Gryba’s borderline open ice hit on Lars Eller in Game 1, leading to his game misconduct and controversial two-game suspension. That in turn, evolved into the craziness of the Game 3 line brawl and endless fights.

Here are some of the tangible, hard-nosed numbers so far:

–Sunday’s game featured 14 fights and a grand total of 236 penalty minutes: 129 from the Canadiens, 107 from the Senators.

–Game 3 also offered up 91 hits, with the Senators owning a 47-44 edge. Through the three games, the teams have combined for 209 hits.

–In addition, the lost teeth count keeps growing, as scoring hero Jean-Gabriel Pageau joined goaltenders Craig Anderson and Carey Price by losing a pearly white following some P.K. Subban stickwork. Pageau found his tooth in a pool of blood and, after a visit to the dentist Monday, it was being back in place, held together with braces.

Needless to say, it hasn’t been a skate in the park.

“We were physical for sure, but they’re physical, too,” said Chris Neil, who made the most of his 6:25 of ice time Sunday, picking up one assist, six hits and 17 penalty minutes. “I’m sure we’ll see the same thing (Tuesday). The guys who play a lot of minutes, we want to be bumping up against them. It’s not just me or (Matt Kassian) or (Zack Smith). It’s everybody.”

On that point, Mika Zibanejad and Marc Methot also had six hits in Game 3. For the Canadiens, Brandon Prust led the way with six hits and Max Pacioretty had five hits.

The close attention Sunday took star Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban off his game. He ended up with more penalty minutes (25) than ice time (19:31), a numbers game the Senators would gladly take every night.

There has been plenty of chatter that Sunday’s victory could very well have been a signature moment for the Senators franchise. Their ability to answer back to the Canadiens’ hitting edge in Game 2 as well as winning the so-you-think-you’re-tough competition sent a strong message.

Then again, Canadiens coach Michel Therrien also went back to the disrespect card after the game, trying to galvanize his crew for an answer back to the Senators.

It also brought to mind Therrien’s pre-series comments, when he said, “we don’t feel the pressure, we apply the pressure.”

Buckle up, hockey fans. There’s plenty more to come.

kwarren@ottawacitizen.com
Twitter.com/Citizenkwarren

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