Sunday, May 13, 2007

Senators 4 Sabres 3 (2OT)

Senators Goals
Alfredsson (8) from Heatley (11) and Spezza (9)
Fisher (3) from Meszaros (2) and Preissing (5)
Redden (2) from Spezza (10) and Heatley (12)
Corvo (2) from Spezza (11)

2 for 4 on the PP
7 for 7 on the PK

Emery made 34 saves on 37 shots in 4+ periods

CBC 3 Stars:
1. Spezza
2. Vanek
3. Corvo

Buffalo Media:
1. Alfredsson
2. Vanek
3. Spezza

Team 1200:
1. Corvo
2. Spezza
3. Miller
Hardest Working: Vermette
1. Corvo
2. Spezza
3. Briere

My 3 Stars:
1. Spezza
2. Corvo
3. Vermette
Alfredsson, Emery, Vanek, Fisher and Miller could have just as easily occupied slot 3.

Saturday night's double overtime victory over the Buffalo Sabres was surely the Senators' most significant victory in over four seasons; though game 6 of the ECF in 2003 might currently occupy the throne as the most important in modern Senators history thanks to Chris Phillips' overtime heroics, some might argue this victory surpasses even that, as early in the series as the win last night may have been. As often as we have heard it this post-season, the facts are all there. This was yet another game that previous incarnations of the Senators would be destined to lose. And yet again, they found a way to win. The Senators found themselves overwhelmed early, not just in play but on the scoresheet. The Sabres came out with everything they had, and overcame an early overturned goal (itself a signal of the early dominance of Buffalo) to take a 2-0 lead before the seven minute mark of the first period, in what would normally be an insurpassable lead for any team. Throughout the 06-07 regular season and playoffs, the Sabres ratcheted up a stunning 46-0 record when leading by two at any point in the game. In the 2007 playoffs, they found themselves 6-0 when marking the first goal. The Senators were 0-8 in game twos after winning the first - every single stat pointed to doomsday for the Ottawa Senators. But rather than succumbing to the expectations set by past failures, the Senators willed themselves to victory by taking command of the game late in the first period, and never surrendering control. Thanks with a late goal by Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson on nice passing play from Heatley and Spezza, the Senators found themselves down by only a goal heading into the first intermission. The Senators emerged a new team, and continued their special teams dominance with powerplay goals from Mike Fisher and Wade Redden (on a 5-on-3 in the dying seconds of the middle frame), to not only claw back from a 2-0 deficit but take a 3-2 lead. Ottawa held the lead well before a final burst from Buffalo, when a deflected puck of the shin of Anton Volchenkov found Sabres co-captain Daniel Briere for an admittedly perfect backdoor goal - with less than 6 seconds remaining in the game. Any other year, perhaps any other team (say, the New York Rangers), and this goal would have been devastating. It was to be expected that the Sabres would carry the momentum to overtime, and like three recent playoff overtimes in Sens-Sabres history, end very quickly in favour of Buffalo. After all, that was the case last year. Instead, Ottawa took it to the Sabres for the entirety of the first overtime, including killing off a potentially costly interference call on Christoph Schubert. The Senators did not get frustrated or impatient, and carried their confidence into the second overtime, when an offensive zone faceoff win from Jason Spezza allowed a feed to Corvo, who one-timed a wobbly blast past surprised goaltender Ryan Miller. Another day, another curse broken. Another testament to Muckler (a summer UFA signing was the goalscorer). Another smart move by the coaching staff (having confidence to put Corvo and Preissing out in that scenario, even though they haven't had the strongest series so far). Another testament to the leadership and character of this team, to claw back from 2-0, to survive a potentially heartbreaking last second goal by the Sabres, and pull out a win. In Buffalo. To take a 2-0 series lead for the first time in Senators history, heading back to Scotiabank Place on Monday. How good it feel to have the shoe on the other foot. From here on out, the Senators are navigating uncharted waters. They've never had a 2-0 lead before. Certainly never approached winning two consecutive opening games on the road. With a victory on Monday in Ottawa, they will find themselves with a veritable strangehold on the series. Should they lose, the series is still 2-1 and the Senators still maintain the home ice advantage they stole from the Sabres with these two victories. Regardless of how things shake out, for the next couple days at least, things are looking good in hockey country.

With such a good playoff run and all things clicking continually, it becomes a redundant to emphasise the good in one game when it's been the same all playoffs long. Alfredsson had a strong physical game. Is it really any surprise any more? Spezza excelled yet again as a smart, back-to-basics playmaker. Redden and Meszaros were for the Nth consecutive time flawless defensively and contributed key roles in the offensive zone. Fisher was aggressive, physical, and has proven again that at least at this point in time, contributing on the scoresheet is not an issue. The fourth line being yet again the most versatile fourth line in hockey. Flawless penalty killing and a lethal power play. Solid goaltending whether we're up or down by 2. On and on and on. Game after game after game. Consistency and dependability at an exceptionally high level. Just the 2007 Senators being the Senators.

All that being said, I would like to pinpoint Antoine Vermette, who easily had his best game of the playoffs and was possibly the Senators best player tonight (he certainly would have been recognised as such had his overtime scoring attempt been aimed at the gaping net and not Miller). Everyone would like some more offense from him, but much like Fisher, when he's on his game the stats never seem to matter much.

As a final note, Joe Corvo deserves a hearty congratulations for his earning his permanent place in the Senators record books. Any playoff goal is something to be proud of; a double overtime playoff goal to take a 2-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Finals and put the Senators just two victories from the Stanley Cup finals - that's something to remember forever.