Something had to give. Or did it?
The Boston Bruins had only lost one game in regulation on the road, while the Ottawa Senators had only lost one in regulation at home.
Only extra time would keep both streaks alive. So, naturally, that’s how it was decided, in a shootout, to Boston’s favour. Not before Kaspars Daugavins had the crowd buzzing with his “glued-puck-to-stick” shootout attempt.
They met at Scotiabank Place on Monday, the visiting Bruins packing high expectations as one of the favourites in the Eastern Conference and the home Senators prepared to perform another of their death-defying feats.
So quickly, the Senators delivered an unexpected moment of magic, Guillaume Latendresse exploding off the injured list to score a goal before the game was a minute old.
If someone had told us Latendresse was chained to a trainer’s table all these weeks and was only expressing his gratitude upon release to the free world, we’d have believed it. He was a bull, charging from a pen. Had Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask at his mercy.
Where that deft touch was in his first six games of the season, now a distant memory, no one knows. But when Latendresse reached for the sky with his stick after scoring his first goal as an Ottawa Senator, a capacity crowd reached for the sky with him.
Could the magic continue? So it seemed, when Kyle Turris figured one busted slump called for another. Turris hadn’t scored since Latendresse was still in the lineup, back in late January, but when he buried a wrist shot past Rask six minutes after the Latendresse goal, the unlikely suddenly seemed probable.
Having arrived with a sparkling 16-3-3 record, including 8-1-2 on the road, the Bruins were stunned. Coach Claude Julien, one victory away from tying Milt Schmidt for second on the all-time list of Bruins’ coaching victories, called a timeout. (Julien got the win, his 245th with Boston).
The Senators held, temporarily, but needed to escape the opening period with that in-your-face, two-goal lead intact. They could not, a puck leaking through goaltender Robin Lehner with 44 seconds remaining in the first. Ouch. A cardinal hockey rule violated — giving up a goal in the final minute of a period.
The Bruins tied the game in the second, and now the Senators had their hands full. To their credit, they could easily have won this, their second straight loss to Boston in extra time. No small feat, that. The Bruins are widely considered to be the class of the East.
Only a lighter game schedule (23 games) has kept them from taking their rightful place atop the conference. The Pittsburgh Penguins, waiting in the wings for a Tuesday date with Boston, long for this kind of consistency.
“We put so much emphasis on every game we play, home or away,” Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said. “So far so good, we haven’t had any games where we were totally out of it. We’ve kept pretty well every game close. And we try to win every game.”
Most teams do, but the will to getting it done can fluctuate. Not in Boston. Not in Ottawa, either. Coaching staffs on both benches push the right buttons, seemingly have the players effort at their command.
That led to a highly-entertaining third period, with the game in the balance.
Their captain thinks this team has as much potential as the one that won the Cup in 2011.
“If you look at it, we have pretty much the same core, the same group,” Chara said. “We’ve just tried to replace some pieces we lost over the last two years, but it’s pretty much the same team.”
No one, it seems, has time to pause and reflect in this busy NHL season. How else to explain Chara not knowing he was about to appear in his 500th game as a Bruin, coincidentally enough, in the Ottawa arena where he grew to be an NHL superstar defenceman. A Norris Trophy winner, in waiting.
“For me, is it tonight?” Chara said to a reporter who mentioned the milestone, his face suddenly aglow. “Oh, I didn’t know that. Yeah, it’s been that many? I had no idea.
“What can I say,” Chara said. “I enjoy this league, it’s a very humbling game and I try to work extremely hard every game. Every time I step on the ice I try to do my best.”
Chara is not the only one surprised to learn he’s played 500 games since leaving the Senators as a free agent in 2006. Where has the time gone?
“Every time I come back, it brings some memories back,” Chara said. “But we all have to move on. Things do happen in hockey. And they did for me.”
Don’t remind us.