Most analysts have already written off Ottawa’s playoff hopes.
Would someone like to tell the Ottawa Senators, please?
After playing Thursday’s game against the Colorado Avalanche to the hilt, the Sens took on the provincial rival Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night and fought to the bitter end, which in this case was the ninth shootout round.
“Another night when I thought we deserved to win,” said Senators captain Brady Tkachuk, who did everything in his power to make it happen, scoring Ottawa’s third and fourth goals in the third period to force overtime. He now has 30 on the season.
The Senators badly outshot the Leafs in regulation and dominated the extra period against a Toronto team that had played the night before, but their old pal, Matt Murray, came up big. Facing the Senators for the first time as a Maple Leaf, Murray faced 52 shots – stopping 48 through four periods and then six of nine in the shootout. The Leafs generated 29 shots on Mads Sogaard.
Alex Kerfoot finally sent the masses of Leafs fans in the building home happy, beating Ottawa’s rookie goalie Mads Sogaard with a low shot. Make the final: Leafs 5, Senators 4.
The Sens have now given up five goals or more in five straight games, all losses as the playoff picture fades to dim. Ottawa is six points behind the Florida Panthers, seven behind the Pittsburgh Penguins and nine back of the New York Islanders in the hunt for one of two wild card spots.
A massive crowd of 20,092 packed into the Canadian Tire Centre for Saturday’s high drama on HNIC, at least 60-70 per cent wearing blue and white. Many of the jerseys were out of date, with names like Kessel and Clark on the back.
For the Senators, this wildly entertaining game – but a loss in the end – was another bitter pill after losing to Colorado 5-4 on a goal that wouldn’t have happened had a referee seen Sogaard’s effort to freeze the puck.
A grim-faced head coach D.J. Smith had to be wondering when his team would get a break.
“To a man, we came to win today and it just didn’t go our way,” Smith said. “I mean, we’ll take the point but you can’t fault the guys, they’re playing as hard as they can. In overtime we had some real good looks, you can’t ask for much more.”
Tkachuk and Tim Stützle had glorious opportunities to be OT heroes, Tkachuk clanging a shot off the bar and Stützle getting stopped by a huge pad save from Murray.
“I’ve got to score that one in OT there,” said Stützle, who did wire a shot past Murray early in the second period to give the Senators their only lead of the night, 2-1.
Alex DeBrincat, who has scored just one goal in the month of March (March 9 vs Seattle), thought he had tied the game in the third period, but the Leafs asked for a review on the play and the goal was called back on the offside. And it was DeBrincat who was offside, on the far left side.
No matter, the Sens got their tying goal on a power play with just ten seconds remaining in the third period, with Sogaard pulled for a 6-on-4 scenario. Claude Giroux flipped a shot at the net, and Tkachuck calmly grabbed the rebound, and tucked it into the open net past a diving Murray.
When the Leafs scored on just their second shot of the game, a rebound goal by Jake McCabe, some Sens fans had to be worried about young Sogaard, who has had to run with the starter’s duties since an injury to Cam Talbot.
But Sogaard, who was victimized on that unusual sequence in his crease against the Avalanche on Thursday, battled all night, even as the Leafs put four past him in regulation, three on the first 14 Toronto shots.
He had to take some solace that it took nine Leafs shooters to end this thing.
“You always want to make an extra save to get the win,” Sogaard said. “So, for sure it’s frustrating but I’m just going to keep battling.”
Sogaard said he has no idea if that was his longest shootout. Nor did he know the Leafs sent nine shooters over the boards.
“I’m just trying to stop the next one,” he said.
Senators defenceman Travis Hamonic joked that he didn’t expect to be picked for shootout duty anytime soon.
“Round 15, maybe, I’d ask for a new set of gloves,” Hamonic said, laughing.
Tough week ahead
Having lost their previous four games heading into the Battle of Ontario, the Senators haven’t been hearing a lot of playoff talk these days.
And yet the playoff “push” that has been the focus of the past couple of weeks has been a useful experience for Ottawa’s young core. Keep in mind that even the players drafted four and five years ago have not had the chance to play games with meaning in March.
“These past few games are high pressure and that’s what it’s about,” said rookie centre Shane Pinto, playing his first full NHL season.
“You want to make the playoffs and we’re going to keep on pushing, but just to have these games is only going to help us next year and the following years. It’s awesome, it’s been fun. We haven’t gotten the results we’ve wanted but we’re learning every day.”
Consider that most of the core of this team is all under the age of 25. Thomas Chabot is the elder of that bunch, and he just turned 26. Tkachuk is 23. Stützle, 21. Jake Sanderson, 20. Pinto, who is shaping up to be a solid third-line centre, is 22.
“We’re still a young group,” Pinto said. “I think people have to realize that.”
After a tough week that included games against Edmonton, Colorado and Toronto, it’s back into the fire this week. More great experience, if nothing else.
The Senators fly out Sunday for games Monday in Pittsburgh and Tuesday in Boston, before returning home for a Thursday game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Then the Sens visit the New Jersey Devils on Saturday.
Ottawa simply cannot lose to the wild card-holding Penguins in this one if they harbour any hope at all of a miracle run to a playoff spot.
“They’re all tough,” Smith said of the games this week. “We knew how hard March would be, every team is a playoff team. But there’s going to be a night where it’s all going to go in for us.”