Sunday, April 29, 2007

Senators 2 Devils 3 (2OT)

Senators Goals
Alfredsson (4) from Spezza (4) and Heatley (5)
Heatley (4) from Spezza (5) and Vermette (2)

1 for 6 on the PP
5 for 7 on the PK

Emery stopped 30 of 33 shots.

Attending Media 3 Stars:
1. Langenbrunner
2. Heatley
3. Brodeur

My 3 Stars:
1. Brodeur
2. Langenbrunner
3. Heatley
Very, very honourable mention to Alfredsson.

The typical, and the atypical. Senators fail to take a 2-0 stranglehold on a series; nothing doing here. Senators score in the waning seconds against a team most reputed for its ability to hold on to close leads - perhaps an occasion to celebrate. Until the final score is reflected upon, of course. The line to be oft-repeated from the lips of players over the next few days is surely foreseeable, "we went in for the split in their barn, and we got it". After a difficult loss, perhaps this is all that matters. The score is 1-1, but the Senators have stolen home ice advantage from New Jersey; the series is still young and the Senators have yet play at Scotiabank Place. Certainly, this is a better situation than going to the Mellon Arena with a 1-1 series tie exactly two weeks ago. There are points of optimism to be found in the game - the heart and effort it took to climb back from a 2-0 deficit against, without a doubt, the best goaltender in the world. The best defensive team in the NHL. The best lead-holding team in the NHL. And the Senators clawed through it, on a night that was certainly not their best outside of the top 3 forwards, to force it to overtime. The Senators did not show up in the first, their goaltender let in a weak goal and gave up on another, only one line showed up, and the Senators still managed to give them a significant run for their money. A win would have been nice - a win would have been fantastic. The overtime goal should not have happened, perhaps, but Langenbrunner did exactly what he needed to do - Emery, Neil, Corvo and Preissing did not. Shake it off, build on the good, and come back to a raucous arena on Monday night. The Devils are breakable. They cracked tonight, they broke on Thursday. The performance of the Senators' big line played a large part in it; now imagine the Senators' might if the other 9 forwards can chip in offensively.

The bad will be dwelt upon by the media and fans enough over the next two days, as is the case with any Senators loss. So, initially, to focus on the good:

Daniel Alfredsson. For the second night in the row, Alfredsson was hands down the best player on the ice. No one but Alfredsson knows what's different right now; the fact is, this is the best he's ever played, playoffs or otherwise. Better than his Calder-winning season, better than his early playoffs before he wore the C, better than his Hart-calibre season last year. He's playing with a chip on his shoulder, that little bit of edge he might have lacked in years past. He's carrying this team on his back, and miraculously, unlike in years past, not collapsing under the pressure. He's leading by example and driving teammates to up their game. He willed this team to erase a deficit. He single-handedly killed off the majority of an ill-timed 5 on the 3, drove the second period offensive resurgence (including scoring the first Senators goal on the power play to bring them within one). There's nothing much new here - this is Alfie in the playoffs circa 2007. Gritty and driven. Win or loss, Alfie was not going to give a drop less than 100% tonight.

Dany Heatley. When Heatley dropped to block that shot in overtime, I finally felt he was committed to being a playoff performer. Heatley had come into Ottawa with a false reputation of being that gritty, hard-hitting, hard-working, prototypical Canadian forward, because he'd donned a Team Canada jersey a couple times and was missing a tooth. His first year here revealed some undesirable tendencies in Heatley's game; he often floated, was rarely physical, and relied on Spezza to carry the play. In his first playoff, he performed adequately in the wide-open Tampa series, but was AWOL when the going got tough in the Buffalo series. Come 06-07, his game improved tenfold with the Spezza injury, and it became clear that Heatley was at his best when he was allowed to carry to play, and when he forced himself to get physical. Few people would criticise his play in the second half. Come playoff time, there were still question marks, and a lacklustre Pittsburgh series didn't help to assuage doubtful minds, even with the excuse of a probable ankle injury. But here we are after a week's worth of rest, and Heatley has absolutely exploded. We've got a gamebreaker on our hands. He's understanding what it takes to win, and the crucial role he's been handed in ensuring this happens. Yeah yeah his 10 GWG in the regular season might have proved how flawed that stat was in measuring the elusive "clutchness", but tonight's goal? There's no doubt. That was as clutch as a Senator has ever been. As evidenced by his key assist on the Alfredsson goal, Heatley played as pivotal a role as possible in the Senators' resurgence tonight. It might not have been a victory, but it did show an immense step in the development of Heatley the playoff warrior.

Jason Spezza. Same old same old. Two killer assists that were just "instinct". Typical, typical Spezza.

Wade Redden. He's getting his standard Team 1200 bashing tonight, but I think he's been great since game 5 of the Pittsburgh series. I don't know if it was injuries, lack of confidence, lack of interest or just bad luck, but Redden is slowly curing himself of it to become, thank heavens, Redden. Welcome back.

Chris Neil, Mike Comrie and the Phillips pairing had much better games tonight. Mike Fisher and Peter Schaefer were off kilter. Despite the poor decision to pinch, I was happy with Corvo and Preissing's game.

0.2 seconds!


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