Fans in Ottawa still ‘Believe It!’ is possible.
How else to think after this dramatic 1-0 spectacle, with the Senators still very much in this playoff series with the top-seeded New York Rangers, who lead two games to one.
Despite the loss, witnesses will tell say they caught one of the most intense playoff games seen here in some time, with the Senators trying to win one for their fallen captain, Daniel Alfredsson, out with a concussion.
Replacement Bobby Butler, along with the entire gang, delivered an inspired performance that fell short. Alfredsson was missed, though, especially on the three Ottawa power plays.
“It was a great playoff game,” said Senators head coach Paul MacLean, clearly proud of his team’s showing. “Up and down the rink. The only difference was that they got one and we got none.”
But not for lack of trying. The Senators pumped 39 shots at New York’s supreme goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist, who calmly flicked pucks away, left and right.
“Henrik was there,” said Rangers coach John Tortorella. “We have an identity in our dressing room. Every time he plays, it starts with him.”
For his Game 1 and 2 (mis)deeds, Senators fans were already booing Brian Boyle every time he touched the puck, but the big man drew extra jeers when he scored the game’s only goal, at 7:35 of the third period, chipping a backhand up over Craig Anderson. Anderson played brilliantly for the home team and had no chance on the shot.
An 11-goal scorer during the regular season, Boyle has been a Sens killer, not to mention a disliked entity for punching the Senators Erik Karlsson in Game 1. The 6-7 power forward seems as surprised as anyone with his sudden scoring touch, one in each game so far.
“If I knew (the secret) I would’ve tried to do it earlier,” Boyle said.
A tight, defensive first period spilled into a second period that suddenly opened up spectacularly, with the Senators and Rangers trading chances and the game still starved for a goal. The Rangers hit the post on a goalmouth scramble that had the crowd gasping at the replay, and Jason Spezza nearly had Kyle Turris in front of an open net at the other end.
The breathtaking action, extending full minutes without a stoppage, lit up a Scotiabank Place crowd that was a distant cousin to the quiet, polite audience of the regular season. Fans waved their white rally towels,
screamed “Andy!” for Anderson and chanted for the missing Alfredsson when the scoreboard clock struck 11 each period.
With Matt Carkner suspended, and Rangers forward Carl Hagelin, as well, for his hit on Alfredsson, Game 3 had little of the rancor that dominated the first two games of the series. Still, it remained physical. In the first period, Ottawa outhit New York 22-14, with Zack Smith and Colin Greening leaving their calling cards along the wall, with a Rangers jersey pressed against it.
“We tried to dig down and find a way to win without Alfie,” said Senators forward Nick Foligno, who had a strong game. “Guys stepped up.”
Foligno termed the winning goal a “lucky bounce” that could just as easily belonged to the Senators.
Not suprisingly after the ejections of Game 2, officials called the game close in the opening 20 minutes. With Spezza in the box and Alfredsson sidelined, it made for some off power play combinations, but the Senators still nearly scored off point shots by Karlsson and Sergei Gonchar.
The fleet game was a respite from the vicious nature of the early games of this earliest playoff round – Sidney Crosby temporarily losing his mind (he had company on the Pittsburgh Penguins bench), Alfredsson taking an elbow to the head and Arron Asham trying to arrange free dental work on Brayden Schenn, among the other atrocities.
Why is the temperature molten hot, so quickly? Theories abound, including in the Senators room.
Alfredsson, who skated on the morning of Game 3 and addressed media afterward, told me that the extracurriculars after whistles and the intensity of the first games when players are rested, energetic, is a combustible mix.
Not surprisingly, Father Alfie has already forgiven young Rangers forward and fellow Hagelin for his indiscretion, which netted a three-game suspension.
“I’m not the type of guy who’s going to hold a grudge,” Alfredsson said. “It’s playoff hockey.”
As he spoke, Alfredsson was still hopeful of playing on Monday night. Ultimately, he did not play in Game 3, and we’re left to wonder if or when he will be back in this series.
Spezza thinks the NHL has become so tight, all playoff players are stricken with Stanley Cup fever.
“Everybody thinks they have a chance to move on. And nobody’s willing to roll over,” Spezza said.
Certainly not in this series, which is far from over heading into Game 4 Wednesday.