Friday, June 15, 2007

06-07 Recap Continued

Game 5 - Ottawa 3, Pittsburgh 0

In what would emerge as something of a pattern, the Senators took advantage of their first opportunity to eliminate the opposition, turning a 3-1 series lead into a 4-1 series victory. The final victory could not have come in a more decisive manner; thoroughly deflated from their game 4 loss in which they put together their best possible performance but still failed to earn a win, the Pittsburgh Penguins did not put up much of a fight in allowing the Senators to advance.

Their own offensive performance was nothing to speak of - despite lengthy powerplays at the start of the game, including two 5-on-3s as the result of mental lapses on the Senators' part, earning delay of game penalties for shooting the puck over the glass twice in the first four minutes of play. But the Senators penalty killers and Emery in particular came up strong, denying any opportunity for the Penguins to gain momentum and instead frustrating them to the point of collapse.

The Senators left the first period unscathed with a tie match, but exploded in the middle frame to secure their second round berth. Dany Heatley broke the Senators goose-egg (and his own), by notching just his second goal of the playoffs early in the second on a power play goal. Third liners Antoine Vermette and Chris Kelly added goals in quick succession, including a beauty of a Vermette breakaway goal that saw him crash into netminder Fleury, but not before the puck decidedly crossed the line. In an intruiging story line, Kelly's third goal of the playoffs tied him for the Senators lead after one round, seemingly cementing certain observer's assertions that Kelly was due for a "Pisani-like" run.

The Penguins never really mounted much of an attack after the third goal crossed the line, all but ceding the series to the Senators before half the game had played out. The Senators played defensive hockey worthy of their next opponents in maintaining the lead and earning the victory. It was Emery's first career playoff shutout.

The most valuable players of the first round for the Senators were captain Daniel Alfredsson, defensive pairing Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov, and depth contributor and penalty-killer extraordinaire Chris Kelly.

The Senators would have a couple of days to wait to determine their playoff opponent, but it was guaranteed to be one of the New York teams - New Jersey, New York Rangers, or, however unlikely, the New York Islanders. It was soon whittled to NJ and the Rangers before the Devils' six game triumph over Tampa Bay secured an Ottawa-NJ matchup.

The matchup presented some interesting challenges for the Senators. The first was obvious - after beating the "best player" in hockey (if not confirmed by his Art Ross trophy, it was by his Hart and Pearson awarded this week), they would face the best goaltender (again, if not confirmed by his regular season record-setting feats, then by his recent Vezina win) and the best defensive team in the East. They were also running to a red-hot Devils offense, with Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta and Zach Parise lighting the lamp at an unpredecented rate in the first round.

But there lied deeper intrigue in the slated series. The last time the Senators and Devils met in the post-season, it was during the Senators best (and most heartbreaking) campaign to date. The President's Trophy winning Senators met the dynastic Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals, and found themselves in a 3-1 hole before a game 5 victory on the back of Jason Spezza and game 6 win thanks to a Chris Phillips overtime goal found the Senators just one victory away from the Anaheim Mighty Ducks and the Stanley Cup Finals. Ottawa would lose the game with just minutes left, and watch on the sidelines as the Devils triumphed over the Mighty Ducks in seven games to take their third Stanley Cup. For veterans like Daniel Alfredsson, Chris Phillips and Wade Redden, no revenge could be sweeter than to defeat the Eastern Conference powerhouse that is the New Jersey Devils.