Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Senators 2 Devils 0

Ottawa Goals
Preissing (2) from Comrie (2) and Fisher (3)
Spezza (4) from Alfredsson (4) and Heatley (4)

0 for 4 on the PP
5 for 5 on the PK

Emery stopped all 25 shots for a shutout, his second of the playoffs.

CBC 3 Stars:
1. Brodeur
2. Emery
3. Spezza

Team 1200 3 Stars:
1. Emery
2. Brodeur
3. Alfredsson

My 3 Stars:
1. Brodeur
2. Alfredsson
3. Comrie

Something was different last night. Because this, this was the type of game the Senators were supposed to lose. Not only was it precisely the type of game the Senators always lose, but it was a type of game outside observers point out as a reason why the Senators will never have extended post-season success. Couple this with the fact that this type of game is the kind the New Jersey Devils excel at, two periods in to a scoreless battle of the goaltenders, any other night it might have seemed the Senators were doomed. Instead, the Senators got the lucky break on a semi-controversial goal early in the third period, and held on long enough to have Jason Spezza salt it away with an empty netter in the final minute, perhaps making up for his disallowed goal two periods earlier. Martin Brodeur was nothing short of spectacular, and yet his lack of offensive support gave Ottawa the slight edge; though firmly outplayed by his counterpart, Emery recorded his second career playoff shutout (and second of the 06-07 post-season). Thanks to the victory at Scotiabank Place, the Senators take a 2-1 edge in the series, with another game still to be played in Ottawa on Wednesday before the players head back to New Jersey for game 5. The 2-1 lead ensures that, at the very worst, the Senators cannot be eliminated in less than 6 games. On a more positive note, the winner of game 3 traditionally has a 69% chance of advancing to the next round.

Between games 2 and 3, Ottawa's depth scoring was questioned, with the big line of Heatley, Spezza and Alfredsson had been the only Senators line to contribute offensively in the first two games of the series, outside of a McAmmond shortie in game 1. Answering the call for more consistency in their attack, Schaefer, Fisher and Comrie line came out guns-a-blazing on the opening shift, setting a strong offensive tone. The line combined for 5 hits and 8 shots, and played a key role in the game-winning goal (Fisher and Comrie both assisted on the scoresheet; Fisher assisted with more than just his pass, as New Jersey fans can attest). Fisher, who has had a strong playoff in all manners but the scoresheet, avoided the penalty trouble that was so costly in the game 2. Though his (accidental) slew-foot on Brodeur brought into question the validity of Preissing's goal, the fact remains had that goal not been scored, fans would be crying out for the Senators' to get in Brodeur's face, cause trouble in his crease to throw him off his game. Fisher's actions were, perhaps, penalizable. And yet, the goal stood. That's hockey. The Senators have witnessed more than their share of agonizingly painful breaks afforded to the other team; that they received a break in their favour last night is not a matter to question from a Senators standpoint.

After a lacklustre opening two games, Comrie emerged with fire in his belly, and was only revitalised after he felt slighted on a non-call after being bowled over by Brodeur. He came out with wheels on the ensuing pair of shifts, and managed to draw a penalty (though appeared in some discomfort after crashing awkwardly into the boards on the play, and left for the bench favouring his shoulder, he did return to the game). His smart play led directly to the Preissing goal.

Schaefer, unfairly criticised for his performance in the opening series versus Pittsburgh but perhaps receiving some due criticism for his invisibility early in the New Jersey series, woke yesterday. His strong board play continued, but rather than cycling endlessly, it resulted in some significant scoring chances. He even (shock and awe) registered two shots on net. Schaefer seems to have settled into a role where little recognition will be received for strong play; he is a crucial cog in the Senators' strong penalty kill, is easily the Senators' best boardman, and is a strong playmaker when his head is in the game. He's also got some great hands, but his refusal to use them to score won't net him many admirers. As a second line winger, I won't disagree that more is expected of him. But like Mike Fisher, who does a lot of little things right and gets praised for it, Schaefer should get some recognition for his play despite the lack of scoring.

The big line of Heatley, Spezza and Alfredsson remained frighteningly strong in game 3, further the argument for the arrival of Heatley and Spezza, and (hopefully) the final shedding of any underachiever label for Alfredsson. Murray tried matching the trio against the EGG line, but they also received considerable icetime against the Madden line. There was no significant difference in performance noticed; the Spezza line is determined to dominate regardless of who they're matched up with. A strong Alfredsson net-drive resulted in a goal by Spezza, though it was waived off as the referee had lost sight of the puck. Brodeur, at his best of the entire playoffs, robbed Alfredsson blind on several occasions, and made the save of the night on a beautiful Spezza feed to Heatley, sprawling to avoid a disastrous 2-0 deficit shortly after the Preissing goal. Were it not for Brodeur's stunning performance, the Spezza line would have yet again been the story of the night. Though it took an empty net goal for them to register any points, they combined for 14 shots, 4 hits, and 1 blocked shot (a late game committal by Spezza that offer yet more proof that he's buying in to playoff hockey). Alfredsson was once again the Senators' leader in icetime, and second only to Volchenkov for the lead in short-handed minutes. Heatley continued his resurgence after a relatively weak series against Pittsburgh, very likely caused by a debilitating ankle injury, and now sits tied for second in the league in points. Spezza registered a goal, a blocked shot and 5 shots, all stats which showcase his separation from the offense-only, pass-first player he was as recently as March.

The Vermette line had a much stronger game tonight, and though they failed to register any points, there was evidence that things were coming along. Vermette enjoyed a brief period on the PP, and looked damn good while there. Perhaps Murray is reluctant to use him in offensive situations because the poor kid can hardly buy a goal (and certainly not one that comes before the buzzer), but he assisted on the late, game-tying Heatley goal in game 2, and looked impressive on the PP in game 3. A regular PP spot, over Schaefer or perhaps even Fisher, should not be out of the question when the second unit is not rolling. Kelly continued to be the defensive God we've come to know and love, and with the way he was playing last night, a goal from our first-round leading goal scorer can't be too far away. Neil has looked competent the last couple games and is delivering his standard physical presence (4 hits, tied with Phillips for the most on the team), but his lack of foot speed brings his utility on a speedy line into question.

The fourth line was great again tonight, aside from a brainless elbowing penalty from Saprykin.

Phillips and Volchenkov were much improved, and for the first time all series it felt like all 3 pairings were playing up to their level. Corvo had a potentially costly giveaway in front of the Ottawa net, and Redden had a pair of fumbles, but none resulted in anything for the other team. Redden's play has been extremely strong in the New Jersey series and any gripping about his play is completely unwarranted and either based on unfounded bitterness or blindness. Meszaros has also looked much better this series. Preissing continues his unheralded play, but it was yet another smart pinch by our master smart-pincher than lead the game winning goal.

There has been a lot of gripping about Emery and how he looked shaky, unsure of himself, whatever else. I'll say what I always say about shutouts: he stopped everything that was thrown at him. That's perfect goaltending. Period.