New York 4 Ottawa 2
It wasn’t pretty, kids.
Not for Senators fans, hockey fans or even the brain damaged. It actually takes some effort to find a lousy hockey game in the first round but we witnessed a classic fugazi on Thursday as the Senators bombed on Broadway opening night.
For those of us who have had the pleasure of seeing every single Senators playoff game in their relatively brief history, the flat performance in the first game of a series is old hat. We’ve seen it more times than we’ve seen the Soup Nazi episode of Seinfeld. The "lousy Sens playoff game" went into syndication years ago.
That’s the good news/bad news.
Just because Ottawa stunk doesn’t mean they’ll stink the rest of the series. This is just how they do things. They like to dip their toe into the pool while their opponent usually cannonballs naked into the deep end with two beers in their fists and a snorkel on upside down.
Yet, for this Senators edition, after the character-filled regular season they had, this was a weird one.
Ottawa’s first power-play was a true dud without a single shot on goal. Doesn’t seem like such a big deal early in a scoreless game but it was a missed opportunity to throw a little doubt into the Rangers psyche. Even if you don’t score, you can put a scare into your opponent by moving the puck around and getting shots through. Didn’t happen and Rangers captain Ryan Callahan scored the first goal of the series shortly after.
It was good work by CBC cameras to quickly cut to Erik Condra on the Sens bench after Callahan’s goal. The blood pouring out of Condra’s face suggested that the refs might have missed a penalty call just moments before the puck went in (replays showed it wasn’t illegal) but coach Paul MacLean looked on silently while Condra bled and the Rangers celebrated.
If this was the regular season, we would have seen MacLean mutter one of those wry “for f**k’s sakes” moustache ripplers and maybe wave a hand at the ice. Instead, MacLean kept his cool and it made you wonder if this was some kind of tactic, as if to say to the refs “Hey, you’re going to hear waves of hell coming from the Rangers bench every time you blow the whistle. You won’t hear a peep from us. Maybe remember that down the line here.”
Not a bad idea, especially when MacLean already has a reputation with the refs. Let John Tortorella bury himself with the zebras while you wait darkly in the shadows.
Turns out, the Senators could have used some emotion rather than trying to keep their heads cool.
At one point early in the game, Brian Boyle used Erik Karlsson’s face as a speedbag ala Marchand on Sedin last year and nobody really did anything about it. Clearly, the Rangers had the emotional edge in the first period and carried it through the game until letting up after they got a four goal lead. Tortorella even called a time-out with his squad up a goal in the second and absolutely gave it to his players. Again the cameras cut to the Senators bench while this was going on and all we saw were a few guys drinking water and the coaching staff staring blankly at the ice. Strange to say the least.
To be fair, the big story wasn’t the Senators coming out flat. It was the Rangers coming out with speed, grit and emotion and all their star players had a good night. Callahan was an animal in the first half of the game and the Senators had no answer.
Chris Neil threw his body around as expected but nobody followed his lead, with the exception of Colin Greening, and later, after it was a bit too late, the dazzling stickhandler Nick Foligno.
Zack Smith was a ghost for most of the night and only woke up when a Ranger hacked him near the benches on a change. Smith ended up being credited with 3 hits, all coming in the 3rd period. He had 0 shots and 0 blocked shots. It makes you wonder – how does a grinder not show up in the first game of the playoffs?
Star players can get shutdown offensively because their opponents game plan is based around it. Happens all the time, even to good teams. But grinders are always free to play hard and make hits. Smith had 17 shifts and didn’t make a difference on a single one of them. He’s had episodes like this throughout the regular season and was even made a healthy scratch at one point by MacLean to wake him up.
Lest it be thought I’m blaming Smith for the loss, most of the Senators had a flat game, although Daniel Alfredsson had jump most of the night and Craig Anderson played well early until the team fell apart in front of him with giveaways (and once behind him with Foligno’s unforgivable reverse play that got botched as badly as any I’ve ever seen).
Still, there’s reason for faith. The Senators got two pucks behind Henrik Lundqvist late in the game and that will at least take some pressure off going into Game Two. If they had gotten shutout on Thursday, their minds would have been in a cranked vice if they somehow got stoned by Lundqvist again in the first period on Saturday.
Instead, the Senators can tell themselves that they got the worst game out of their system right away and from now on it’s going to be playoff hockey the way every other team plays it in the NHL. Emotion can be a hindrance or it can be a positive. Usually, it’s not lacking in the playoffs, it’s just how you use it.
For some reason, the Senators miraculously looked like they had none at all for two periods, defying all the odds of science, culture and civilization.
My guess is they’ll get a little of that New York spirit after another day spent in Manhattan, brooding over their Game 1 flop in the spotlight.
Black Aces Senators 3 Stars
1. Daniel Alfredsson
2. Jason Spezza
3. Chris Neil
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