As far as the Ottawa Senators are concerned, there is indeed an elephant in the room.
His name is Brian Boyle. He is an American, 27, stands 6-foot-7 tall and weighs in at approximately 250 pounds.
Never considered much of an NHL prospect, Boyle opened this best-of-seven playoff series between the Senators and New York Rangers by practising his jab on Ottawa’s tiny Norris Trophy candidate defenceman, Erik Karlsson.
In Game 2, he served as a punching bag for Ottawa’s toughest player, Matt Carkner, who was given a one-game suspension for his indiscretion.
On Monday, Boyle scored his third goal in three games and second game-winner as the Rangers defeated the Senators 1-0 to take a 2-1 series lead.
With the Rangers holding on to their slim lead, Ottawa lucked into a power play – only to have Boyle negate it moments later, when he drew a slashing penalty from defenceman Chris Phillips.
The game may have been low-scoring, but the 20,182 who may have thought they were going to a fight instead watched a hockey game break out. This was as it should be played, not with the yapping, scrums and attempted assassinations that have so far marked the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.
The game came at the end of a strange day of confusing events at Scotiabank Place. First, Sens star Daniel Alfredsson confirmed he had a concussion, but was skating in practice. Then, Senators head coach Paul MacLean told the media that Alfredsson had passed the baseline test – raising a curious question as to whether it’s possible to have a concussion and pass at the same time.
Alfredsson, they said, would be a game-time decision. At game time, he was nowhere to be found, his name a “scratch” on the playing roster.
Concussed or not might be one question, but a larger question would be what would the Senators do without their captain, without their heart, without the player who has played in 107 of the team’s now 112 playoff matches?
That he was missed was obvious. With 11 seconds to go before the 11 minute mark in the first period, the crowd began the Alfie chant: “Eleven … 10 … nine … eight … seven … six … five … four … three … two … one! “AL-FIE! AL-FIE! ALL-FIE! ALL-FIE! ALL-FIE! AL-FIE! AL-FIE! ALL-FIE! ALL-FIE! ALL-FIE! ALLLL-FIEEE!”
The Senators certainly could have used him. They gave all they had, yet had no one to quarterback the power play from the left boards, always ready for the hard one-timer from the left circle, the power play sputtered.
MacLean tried putting agitator Zenon Konopka – fined $2,500 (U.S.) by the league earlier in the day for a verbal assault on a Rangers player last Saturday – but neither Konopka’s limited stick nor his limited-less lip could get things going.
MacLean had figured this game would be at least as physical as Games 1 and 2 in New York. “I expect it to be very similar,” he said prior to the puck-drop, “and go up.”
New York goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who was brilliant in recording the shutout Monday, agreed: “It’s part of the playoffs. You get to know each other better and better as the series goes on.”
But it was not to be. It seemed both teams had taken to heart the inspirational Mark Messier message scribbled on the whiteboard in the visitors’ dressing room: “Bravery is not the absence of fear, but the action in the face of fear.”
Both teams faced fear not with fists but with action. The Rangers were simply one goal better: Boyle’s winner coming 7:35 into the third period, when he lifted a backhand over the shoulder of goaltender Craig Anderson and under the crossbar.
With the Senators missing their best playoff performer and their on- and off-ice leader, they played a controlled, smart game in which numerous journeymen – Jim O’Brien, Jesse Winchester, the much-maligned Bobby Butler – stepped up their games in response.
Alas, none of them having the scoring touch of Alfredsson, opportunities were lost.
O’Brien alone had two perfect chances to score on Lundqvist but could not react in time. Kyle Turris was set up brilliantly by Jason Spezza, but could not get the puck out of his skates.
The Senators worked hard enough to limit the Rangers chances, yet, when they did come, Anderson was at his best. Following one second-period save off Brandon Dubinsky, a new chant went up: “An-dy! AN-DY! ANNNN-DEEEEE!”
He deserved the chants for such an effort – including a brilliant glove stop late in the third off New York captain Ryan Callahan.
What Ottawa needed, however, was the captain that got most of the chants.
The captain they were missing – Daniel Alfredsson.