The casualty list was longer than Santa’s, longer even than the Ottawa Senators’ multiple resolutions to smarten up in 2014.
Captain Jason Spezza was out with an undisclosed lower-body ailment. Assistant captain Chris Phillips was out with a foot injured the night before in Boston. But Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara was also out with an undisclosed injury from the previous night. Furthermore, ultra-dependable Boston defenceman Dennis Seidenberg had been lost for the season when tore the ACL/MCL in his right knee Friday.
At the top of the list, however, was Ottawa’s pride, slapped around and ridiculed during the team’s 5-0 loss to the Bruins the night before – “we just quit,” defenceman Erik Karlsson had said of his team. One day later and they were back against these same Bruins at Ottawa’s Canadian Tire Centre.
Playing in front of a sellout crowd of 20,500 fully aware that the local team hadn’t won two games in a row since, gulp, Nov. 9, the Senators had much to prove to the increasing doubters.
They were hitting the halfway mark, Game 41, tied for 12 place in the eastern conference. Their utter inconsistency – defeating No. 1 eastern team Pittsburgh Penguins 5-0 on Monday, losing to No. 2 eastern team Bruins on Friday – had become their much-sought “identity.”
True to form, it seemed that the Ottawa team dressed on Saturday was not the team that had travelled to Boston the day before.
Though the game was at times embarrassingly badly played by both sides, the Senators managed a bit of redemption with a 4-3 victory over the powerful Bruins.
So scrambled was the play at times that the final minute – during which Boston had a power play as well as having pulled their goalie – was about as close to total chaos as a hockey game can come.
No matter. It was a win -- and given what had happened only the night before, an important one.
"A redemption game," said Bobby Ryan, scorer of the winning goal.
"It's all about how you respond," said winning goaltender Craig Anderson.
"A real good response," added head coach Paul MacLean.
"We found a way to win the game."
They also found several ways in which to lose it, though fortunately for Ottawa Boston had their own troubles with the multitude of opportunities such open, disorganized play presented both teams.
The Senators opened the scoring seven minutes into the game when defenceman Patrick Wiercioch rapped a rebound through a goalmouth scramble and the puck ended up behind Boston starter Tuukka Rask. It was the third goal of the season for Wiercioch who, like his team, has struggled most of the year.
Boston tied the game at 1-1 at the 12-minute mark when Daniel Paille was allowed to carry the puck up the right boards, used a pee-wee play to dance around Karlsson and then beat Anderson.
Two minutes later, however, Ottawa again took the lead when Cory Conacher, who has had a rough year, tipped a floating Kyle Turris backhand and the puck, floating like a New Year’s balloon, somehow eluded Rask.
Ottawa went ahead 3-1 in the second period when checking centre Zack Smith scored shorthanded when he carried the puck down the ice and more or less bulldozed it past Rask.
That was the end of the night for Boston’s starting goaltender. Head coach Claude Julien called Rask to the bench and sent in backup Chad Johnson.
It proved to be a wise move, as before the period was out Johnson had made a superb save off Clarke MacArthur and the Bruins seemed to come to life.
Jarome Iginla tipped a perfect Milan Lucic pass in past Anderson just after a Bruins power play – Karlsson, off to serve a tripping penalty given to Anderson, was out of the box but could not get back in time – to make it 3-2 Ottawa and raise, once again, the questions concerning the Senators inability to hold leads.
That concern was underlined when defenceman David Warsofsky, just called up from the minors on Saturday morning, skated the length of the ice and fired from a near-impossible angle – the shot eluding Anderson and tying the game at three goals apiece.
It was the first goal of Warsofsky’s NHL career.
The Bruins then appeared to go ahead but a review confirmed that Iginla had kicked the puck in past Anderson.
It wasn’t until the 15:25 mark of the final period that matters were settled. Ryan picked up a fumbled puck from Boston defenceman Torey Krug and raced down the ice to deke and flick a backhand behind Johnson. The unassisted goal was Ryan’s team-leading 18.
"He got a hot puck," Ryan said of the Boston fumble. "And I took advantage of it."
The Senators somehow held on for the victory, despite Boston buzzing during the final two minutes on their six on four opportunity.
The shots ended 32-30 in Boston’s favour, some 40,000 shots having missed the nets.
The Senators now have one more chance to prove they are capable of winning two in a row before 2013 runs out.
That opportunity comes on Monday night here in Ottawa, when the visitors will be the Washington Capitals and Alexander Ovechkin.
"We have another difficult game coming up Monday," said MacLean.
"This was an opportunity for us to gain some traction going in."
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