More than an hour after this one ended, Ottawa Senators GM Bryan Murray was still locked in animated, but civil conversation with a trio of on-ice officials in the bowels of the Bell Centre.
There’s nothing wrong with a frank exchange of views, and in this case the Sens clearly considered themselves a deeply aggrieved party.
The tetchiness was surely amplified by a complete collapse in the final four minutes of the third period that saw the Senators cough up a 4-1 lead and drop a desperately-needed point in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens.
When little-used Montreal defenceman Francis Bouillon scored the overtime winner as Ottawa goalie Robin Lehner frantically tried to corral a loose puck, the Sens’ Bobby Ryan lost his composure and had to be restrained by the linesmen as he screamed at referee Eric Furlatt.
Lehner, who clearly believed he’d frozen the puck, slammed his stick against the glass, and a group of about 10 Ottawa players lingered near the penalty box, giving their two cents’ worth as Ryan continued his rant.
”It was against the pad, their goalie never had full control,” said Bouillon, who had perhaps the best vantage point before potting his first of the year.
Earlier, on David Desharnais’ tying goal with a skimpy 0.3 seconds on the clock, Ottawa captain Jason Spezza was plainly outraged either at Thomas Vanek’s bump on Lehner moments before (in fairness, the Austrian was cross-checked by an Ottawa defender) or when he appeared to hook a Sens player as they fell to the ice in a puck battle.
The Senators had been called twice for goalie interference earlier in the game – including one on Spezza where Carey Price clearly sold the call – and had also had a second-period goal disallowed amid nebulous circumstances.
The league issued the following statement immediately following a video review.
“At 14:50 of the second period in the Ottawa Senators/Montreal Canadiens game, the Situation Room initiated video review after the puck entered the Montreal net. The referee informed the Situation Room that after a referee's huddle, it was determined Ottawa's Colin Greening made incidental contact with Montreal's Carey Price prior to the puck entering the net. The referee informed the Situation Room that he had also called a tripping penalty on Montreal's Lars Eller during the play. This is not a reviewable play, therefore the referee's call on the ice stands. No goal Ottawa. Penalty Montreal.”
All well and good, except the original call on the ice was actually a goal: Furlatt pointed to the puck as it slid into the neat.
And after the review, he took to the in-rink P.A. system to announce that the call had been changed because net was knocked off prior to the puck crossing (which replays showed it had, making it the correct decision).
However, the league’s note makes no mention of the net, and if a penalty was called, how could it be incidental contact? And why was the call changed on the ice?
“That’s confusing for me,” Ottawa coach Paul MacLean said afterward.
Price’s summary of the evening: “That was a gong show.”
For whatever reason, unusual happenings have become prevalent when these two teams meet, as have arguments over officiating.
In February of 2013, then-Senator Jakob Silvferberg was whistled for a dubious goalie interference penalty, wiping out a goal in what became a 2-1 loss to the Habs in Montreal.
But the reffing gods smiled on Ottawa at a critical time, when Mika Zibanejad kicked a puck into the net late in a playoff game, keying a Sens comeback that would tip a series headed for 2-2 to 3-1. Price would be injured in the final seconds, Ottawa would close out the series in Montreal against backup Peter Budaj.
The ill feelings over Saturday’s officiating shouldn’t overshadow what was a thrilling contest, in which the Habs, left for dead late in the third period – Lars Eller’s first goal in 24 games, which started the comeback, didn’t even earn a smile from the Dane – were resurrected thanks in large part to the brilliance of defenceman P.K. Subban, who created three straight goals.
It was Subban’s stickhandle-and-pass to captain Brian Gionta that created the rebound for Eller to bat in at 16:38 of the third; just over a minute later, Subban was again the architect as he took a little off his slapshot and gave Gionta an opportunity to tip it past Lehner (43 saves on 48 shots).
Finally, with time expiring, Subban gathered a pass from Andrei Markov – who had drawn a hooking penalty on Kyle Turris with 1:48 to play – and then did a very un-Subban thing: rather than rip a slapper on net, he made a gorgeous diagonal pass to an open Desharnais, who managed to beat the horn.
“Everything’s going fast, I had a brief opportunity when the puck was in the corner to look up at the clock and see how much time we’ve got, we got the puck back to Marky, he moved it to me, and I know everybody including their goaltender was expecting me to shoot there. So, I knew we had maybe a couple of seconds left, maybe one or two, I didn’t know where it was exactly, but give Davey credit, man, as much as I’ve got to find him there, he’s got to bury it, he’s got a guy diving, the goalie diving, it’s not an easy goal,” Subban said. “Some people might say we didn’t deserve to win that game, but the way we executed in the last five minutes, I’d say we did.”
As the Habs celebrated, Desharnais and Subban whiffed on an attempted embrace, leading Subban to laugh afterward “I tried to jump him and he dodged me pretty quick.”
They escaped with an improbable win to keep their noses ahead of the pursuing Columbus Blue Jackets and Detroit Red Wings, but if the Habs needed any more evidence that a power play that is still just 18-for-131 since Dec. 3 (that’s a 13.1 efficiency rate, which is about how Vancouver’s 27-ranked power-play unit ticks over) needs to improve, they got it on this night.
Oh, and about that Montreal goalie, who was playing his first game since a post-Olympic injury layoff.
The first shot he faced went in, but that was hardly Price’s fault.
Allowing Spezza to waltz into the slot and fire a BB top shelf isn’t recommended.
“It’s obviously my first game in two-and-a-half weeks or whatever, it would have been nice to get some more rubber as opposed to a Spezza slapshot, but it’s a really gratifying feeling to get the two points,” said Price, who didn’t travel with the team to Buffalo for Sunday’s date with the Sabres, he’ll get an extra day of rest.
The first breakaway the Team Canada goalie faced in his return from injury didn’t go in – well it did, but the goal was called back after Colin Greening knocked the net off its moorings and barrelled into Price in the second period.
The first time the Montreal Canadiens goalie got bowled over – in the first period, by Ales Hemsky – he got up without incident.
And while the 26-year-old spent a lot of time during stoppages stretching, but that’s not overly unusual (the nature of the injury that kept him out for eight games remains unclear, although it’s been reported he has knee tendinitis) for the Montreal netminder.
The second breakaway, when Erik Karlsson sent Zack Smith in alone by saucering a sumptuous three-zone stretch pass onto his stick, did go in, at least in part because of the way Price played it – he seemed to hesitate between stacking his pads and a poke-check.
The guilty party on that goal, however, just as he was on the Greening disallowed goal, was veteran defenceman Douglas Murray, whose slow line change gave Karlsson a passing lane, the chasing Subban (easily the best Hab on the night) couldn’t make up the gap.
But that’s enough about the goalie.
Yes, he gave up four goals – Clarke MacArthur and Hemsky tallied in the third – on 34 shots, but he faced a total of six breakaways, and kept his team in it.
The Habs opened the scoring in this one after just 38 seconds (Daniel Brière bamboozled Ryan and stripped the puck off a faceoff, then outwitted Karlsson before wiring a wrist shot past a screened Lehner).
The Habs put the pedal to the metal from there – though Spezza would tie the game within three minutes, they outshot the Sens 17-4 in the period, and could have been up by four or more goals.
Brière should have scored a hat-trick in the first given all the chances – Vanek, Desharnais and Eller all had stellar opportunities, none of them converted.
And that, folks, is the problem.
The Habs had three power-play opportunities in the first, and came up empty on all them – despite creating a crazy number of chances.
Converting on those is the challenge going forward.