Call it The Curse of Ron Tugnutt.
Thirteen years ago, Tugnutt was a popular goaltender with the Ottawa Senators and one Friday night he cut his catching hand while slicing bagels – “The really good kind, though, from Montreal” – and couldn’t practice or play for a stretch.
Wednesday night in Ottawa, the Scotiabank Place scoreboard introduced the now-retired Tugnutt to a warm reception during the Senators 5-2 victory over the Washington Capitals.
Winning goaltender Craig Anderson promptly went home and sliced a tendon in the baby finger of his stick hand while trying to separate frozen chicken.
Tugnutt got a bagel cutter; Anderson should consider Chicken Chalet delivery.
The injury meant that the Senators, on a four-game winning streak and hoping to challenge the Boston Bruins for the division lead, were forced to turn to back-up goaltender Alex Auld, who has not been particularly good and who has had precious little work this season.
Anderson, after all, has been as critical as Erik Karlsson or Jason Spezza to the Senators’ surprising season. He had appeared in more games, 56, faced more shots, 1692 and made more saves, 1544, than any other NHL goaltender this year. His 29 victories are impressive. Auld had two wins against five losses, two of them in overtime.
Boston, on the other hand, had Tim Thomas in goal. Despite his political issues with the American capitol, Thomas has a remarkable record against the Canadian capital. In three previous meetings with Ottawa this season, he won all three games. Thomas had also won his last eight games at Scotiabank Place with a sparkling 1.35 goals against average.
Imagine, then, the shock when the Senators scored on their first shot of the game that would ultimately end 5-3 in Boston’s favour.
Spezza, who came into this game on a seven-game streak (seven goals, nine assists), threw a brilliant lateral pass to a charging Erik Karlsson – five goals and seven assists in his previous five games – and Karlsson beat Thomas easily.
The surprise did not last long, however. Patrice Bergeron tied the game on Boston’s fourth shot on Auld when he was able to sweep a rebound around the outstretched glove hand of a fallen Auld.
Thomas, meanwhile, recovered from his first muff to make remarkable saves on, first, Ottawa’s Colin Greening and then Nick Foligno, both forwards breaking in free with superb opportunities to score. Thomas would have no troubles until late in the third period.
Boston went ahead 2-1 on a Brad Marchand wristshot that shouldn’t have gone through a bagel but somehow slipped under Auld’s arm. You could almost hear the oxygen being sucked out of the sellout crowd of 19,444.
The Senators also appeared to lose their wind, playing a listless second period that saw the Bruins go ahead 3-1 when a poor clearing shot by the Ottawa defence was snared at the blueline by Boston defenceman Adam McQuaid. Rookie Carter Camper was able to slide the rebound past Auld for his first NHL goal.
Boston took the game to 4-1 halfway through the final period when David Krejci corralled a Dennis Seidenberg rebound and fired it through a forest of bodies screening Auld.
And then it was all Ottawa. The team that they were calling the “Cardiac Kids” for dramatic third-period comebacks in the fall finally found itself – though a bit late in the game.
Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson beat Thomas late when he one-timed a Spezza pass from the left boards. The assist was Spezza’s 600th career point.
Alfredsson then scored from almost exactly the same spot moments later when Karlsson fed a long cross-ice pass to him.
With Auld pulled for the extra attacker, the Senators threatened to tie the game but the matter was settled when Patrice Bergeron scored into the empty net for a 5-3 victory.
The victory marked the third in Boston six-game, 11-day road trip, their longest stretch of the year without a home game. The Senators and Bruins will meet again Tuesday in Boston when the Senators will hope they can again find their game that had them soaring before this loss.
The two matches between the divisional rivals are significant, claimed Boston coach Claude Julien, in that “This is where a lot of things are going to be decided here – whether we make it a tight race or whether we really push them down.”
Before the match, Spezza had called games against higher-level teams such as the defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins “measuring-stick games,” and this night the Senators simply did not measure up.
"They're the Stanley Cup champs for a reason," concluded Spezza after the loss.
For much of the game, the Bruins had two shots on net for every one the Senators managed, the final tally being 38-30 in favour of Boston.
"I thought they [Boston]were way better than we were for two periods plus," said Ottawa coach Paul MacLean. "We can't blame the goalie. You're not going to win any game if you only play for 12 minutes."
The Senators looked nervous playing in front of Auld, who can hardly be blamed for the loss and, in fact, played stronger as the game went along. But if Anderson can be credited with giving this young, rebuilding team enough confidence that they find themselves currently in playoff territory, then confidence in the goaltender is critical to any chances the Senators have of staying there. Auld’s play in the final period will at least give them some hope.
Yet this night, Auld could not deliver as Anderson has so often this season.
“[Anderson]is a key part of our team,” Spezza said of the missing goalie. “A key reason we’ve done so well.”
There will be prayer vigils throughout Ottawa Sunday morning for Anderson’s pinkie.