Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Leader’s Clutch Goal Gives Chance For Teammates To Shine

Not a bad one-two punch for captain Daniel Alfredsson this weekend.

He somehow ties Game Three short-handed as the final minute ticked off, setting up Ottawa’s double-overtime win on Sunday night, and Monday morning he’s announced as one of three finalists for Mark Messier’s Leadership Award.

Not bad at all.

And he'll probably take home that trophy from Messier, and not just because they both share #11 in common. Messier knows that Alfie doesn’t have much time left to win anything, and the time is now, seeing the kind of near-absurd adversity this Senators team had to go through and the fact they’re playing in the second round when nobody this side of hell gave them a chance.

The other two nominees, Jonathan Toews and Dustin Brown are both deserving but neither had a job as monumental as Alfredsson’s. There’s also the cumulative effect of his whole career here, being the face of the franchise through bankruptcies, rebuilding, the Heatley and Yashin gong-shows as well as the good years where the Stanley Cup seemed within reach. Messier almost doesn’t have much choice but to give it to Alfie because any other decision would seem unusually cruel. Alfie has been through it all and is still coming up big when the time is right.

Even though I’ve seen the kind of drama we all saw in Game Three played out many times before, I wasn’t getting ready for overtime. As the minutes bled away in the third and that Penguins 1-0 lead feeling more like a 3-0 deficit, it became a sort of “drink your beers now because we’re all going home in 5 minutes” mentality. It just looked and felt like Ottawa’s season was winding down thanks to their one major weakness – an inabiliy to score goals. It’s been a bigger hassle than their all their injuries - and definitely related.

And then that Erik Karlsson penalty came with just under two minutes to go and you could hear the drunks singing “Good Night Irene” all the way from Renfrew. Luckily all Alfie could focus on was getting the puck into the Penguins end at least one more time and going to the net. The result was pretty stunning. The bolts rattled in the girders of the rink while all across Ottawa people threw out their backs jumping off couches and bar stools. Pets were permanently traumatized by the sudden screaming and toppling of coffee tables. Yet nobody was really surprised it was Alfie raising his stick. That sort of thing just seems to follow him around.

One of the great things about Alfredsson being so clutch is that it gives opportunities to other players to do the same. If Alfredsson doesn’t tie that game up, there’s no double-OT Colin Greening goal and that guy doesn’t get to experience that same feeling and all the confidence and glory that comes with it.

Craig Anderson gets to walk away from that game with a much needed boost of confidence after a rough Game Two. He earned it himself but he can’t score the goals. A one-goal loss would have been painful for Anderson after everything he’s done for this team. Jason Spezza gets to feel like he made a positive contribution after being away so long. The one thing a guy coming back from a long layoff wants to see is his team win so nobody can say you were a hindrance. All of these positives just flow from Alfie’s last-minute goal. And it’s not just Greening, Anderson and Spezza. It’s everyone watching that on the bench. You don’t necessarily need to play on the same line to make the players around you better. When you do your job, it gives everyone else an opportunity to excel at theirs.

Even if Ottawa never wins another game in this series, the young guys probably learned a hell of a lot about the NHL playoffs from that one Alfredsson goal. All it takes is one play to turn things around. You can’t quantify that with stats or analysis of systems. It comes down to character in the end, like so many things do in hockey at this time of year. That’s an old cliché but it’s a cliché because it’s always been true.

Down 2-1 in the series with at least one more game at home, Ottawa has a chance here and that’s more than most people thought for almost 9 periods when Ottawa couldn't even get a lead. Yet the Penguins are far from being devastated over that loss. They know they still have control of this series and will be coming for Ottawa in Game Four. The only difference is, thanks to Alfie – and now Greening – the Sens knows they can beat this team. And it can happen again.

So get your living room back in order and get your dogs calmed down. It’s only going to get more intense as we get into the core games of this series.


Anonymous said...

That was another great blog my man. So well said.
Unbelievable really how this team continues to defy the odds and probabilities. Sooner or later it will catch up with them, but like you said in the blog: at least the young guys now know how quickly the tables can turn during the SC playoffs.

Florent said...