Thursday, April 19, 2007

Senators 3 Penguins 0

Ottawa Goals
Heatley (2) from Alfredsson (3) and Preissing (2)
Vermette (1) from Kelly (1)
Kelly (3) from Neil (1) and Vermette (1)

3 Stars from Team 1200
1. Emery
2. Vermette
3. Kelly

3 stars from me
1. Emery
2. Vermette
3. Kelly
(if it isn't broken...)

For the second year in a row, the Ottawa Senators advance to the second round with a well-earned 5 game series win. Despite losing the second game of the series in Ottawa to allow the Penguins to draw even, the Senators went on to win the next 3 games to clinch the series. Though it was only a first round victory, the Senators exorcised many demons; they played aggressive and physical, forechecked aggressively, were absolutely stellar on the penalty kill, and despite a disappointing power play, managed to outscored the Penguins 18-10. Tonight's game was perhaps the most complete game the Senators have ever played in the post-season.

With many positives, I'll try to zero in on a few of the key ones:

Ray Emery. His name is Raaaaaay. First ever playoff shutout, first Senators playoff shutout in 4 years, and exactly the kind of performance we've been hoping for. While he wasn't excellent in the first two games, he was absolutely stellar in the final 3 and made what could have been a very long series into a very short one. He was clearly our #1 PKer and earned every inch of that shutout just based on his play in the first 3 minutes. Pittsburgh didn't give him a whole lot of work, no, but that's a more difficult scenario for a goalie. He stopped everything they threw at them, with no exceptions - that's perfect goaltending.

Penalty killing. Not just tonight, the Senators completely neutralised one of the league's most potent powerplays, not allowing a single power play goal in the last three games. Though it was frustrating to see the team take penalties you just can't take (puck over glass, closing hand on the puck and so on), and giving the typically-stellar Penguins PP two 5 on 3s in the first 5 minutes of the game, the PK shut things down completely. For all the flak our PP has been receiving lately, we can't complain about special teams on the whole; the boys did everything right when a man down.

Antoine Vermette. Only a couple minutes in I could just feel Vermette's energy; I knew he was going to score tonight. He was buzzing on the PK, very aggressive, and was a key reason why the Senators were able to wrap it up tonight. He's had difficulty putting the puck in the net in the second half of the season, despite some great efforts, so it was a great relief to see him finally get rewarded for his great effort. The Vermette-Kelly-Neil line was easily the best on the ice and the Vermette-Kelly PK pairing was stymied the Penguins admirably. To succeed in the playoffs guys like Vermette need to step up - and they have.

Chris Kelly. Most of my comments on Vermette can be applied to Kelly as well. He was buzzing in both ends of the ice, and a key part of our success not just tonight but throughout the whole series. Tied for the team lead in goals with 3, from a guy I've always criticised for having hands of stone? Kelly has stepped up incredibly in this series and deserves all the credit he can get.

Wade Redden. Still not quite there, but he looked much better tonight. He was finally getting physical, and it improved his game exponentially. He was only credited with one hit, but watching the game you could see he was definitely throwing the body around a lot more than 1 registered hit might imply. Give him credit, he was a big part of our PK success, and finished +2 on the night. Hopefully the week's rest will get him back closer to where he should be; he's been a major disappointment this season and this series, but he played decently tonight.

Jason Spezza. 0 points, and it's one of the best games he's ever played. 0 shots on net, 1 brutal penalty, and it's still one of the best games he's ever played. If all the Spezza bashers would please stand up... this guy has developed immensely over the past two seasons. Sure he was still trying to be a little too fancy, and forced a couple passes that just weren't there, especially on that 2-1 with Alfie where a shot would have been a sure goal, but I could not be prouder of Spezza's performance in the series if he had finished with 40 points. He's shored up his defensive game and is just playing smart hockey. Spezza is going to be a Sakic/Yzerman type in another 5 years, I can just feel it. Never let this guy go.

Oleg Saprykin. I love this guy. Muckler was heavily criticised for picking him up instead of Roberts at the deadline, but Saprykin has been fantastic for us in the past two games. It's unfortunate Ottawa is such a deep team, because Saprykin deserves far better than the fourth line, and once Eaves comes back he'll be sitting again. Saprykin has done nothing but give his all every shift, he's got some great hands, and he gets in people's faces after whistles, sticking up for his teammates. He's about as far from the stereotypical heartless Russian as you can get. I'm not arguing he should be taking someone's lineup spot since they deserve it as much or more as him, but Saprykin has done absolutely nothing to merit his spot as an injury fill-in. Still, he doesn't complain about his treatment and gives his everything whenever he gets a slot in the lineup. He makes the fourth line exciting. Regardless of what happens to him next year, I'll be cheering him on. I love this guy.

Peter Schaefer and the Fisher line
. I've been ragging on Schaefer all season long, but he's been great so far in the playoffs. He doesn't have many points, so perhaps he's not an ideal second-line winger, but he's been generating chances and looks great out there with Fisher and Comrie. This line may need to score a little more, but they're doing everything else out there. He also deserves major props for yet another night of great penalty killing.

Volchenkov coming out in the last few minutes to protect a lead after (presumably) throwing his shoulder out is just pure bravery and heart.Dany Heatley and Andrej Meszaros had much better games. Hopefully the week off will let Heatley get back to 100%, and Mezzy to keep working on the confidence. He's getting there. Slowly. Oh so slowly.

I don't want to talk about negatives. We're on to the second round! We've got a week of the Toronto media mulling the ways in which we'll choke (or still talking about Roberts); let's just enjoy this for now.