It was Cliché Day in the nation’s capital.
A light snow, soft as feathers, was falling. Kids were choosing up sides on a park rink close to the Canadian Tire Centre where the Ottawa Senators were to meet the New York Rangers in an afternoon match, and the lineup at Tim Horton’s was bearable.
The match would be the first of three national CBC broadcasts to celebrate Hockey Day in Canada.
Unfortunately for the nation’s capital, a game that began well ended badly, with the Rangers enjoying their Hockey Day in Canada before heading home with a 4-1 victory.
It looked promising for a short while, though.
Early in the first period, the Senators went ahead 1-0 on a hard slapshot from the left point by Marc Methot, home-bred and –grown and trilingual in all three official languages, French, English and puck talk.
Methot was set up for the shot by defenceman Cody Ceci, a 20-year-old local sensation who still lives at his parents’ home in the Ottawa suburb of Orleans and still has a Senators clock and posters in his bedroom.
And it was scored against the Rangers’ Cam Talbot of Caledonia, Ont., the Canadian getting a rare start in place of No. 1 goaltender Henrik Lundqvist of Sweden.
The sellout crowd of 19,978 could not have been more pleased with how their special day was going – at first.
Six minutes later, however, on a five-on-three power play, the Rangers tied it up on a lovely, tic-tac-toe passing play finished off perfectly by Brad Richards of Murray Harbour, Prince Edward Island.
At this point, if someone had handed CBC a script with all this written down, it would have been turned down as just a bit too much. The only thing missing was Neil Young singing the national anthem.
Just to wrap it all in maple syrup, Rick Nash – of Brampton, Ont., recently named to Team Canada for the Sochi Winter Games – put the Rangers ahead 2-1 with a goal from a child’s dream: coming up hard along his left wing and ripping a wrist shot high over the blocker of Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson.
Poor Anderson was later tripped up in the dying seconds of the second period when his defenceman Erik Karlsson, the 2012 Norris Trophy winner, chipped a blind backhand pass out from behind his net and right onto the tape of Rangers forward Derek Stepan, who simply flicked the puck into the far side of the net while Anderson looked on in complete astonishment.
Just for the record, Karlsson is Swedish, Stepan and Anderson are Americans. The day, however, belonged to the team from New York City.
The Rangers took the game to 4-1 late in the third period when little forward Mats Zuccarello picked off a Chris Phillips pass, came in on Anderson and pulled the Senators goalie out before chipping the puck into the empty side of the net.
Zuccarello is Norwegian.
This was the first of three meetings between the two clubs battling, along with it sometimes seems dozens of other teams, for one of the final playoff spots in the 2013-14 season.
Going into the match, the Rangers record stood at 25-21-3, good enough for 53 points and a tie for fifth place in the ever-tightening eastern conference. The Senators were 21-18-9 for 51 points, only two points back yet four slots back, at ninth, so far as the standings went.
Both teams were considered hot, the Senators coming off two wins and Thursday’s 5-4 overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens, the Rangers having won four of their last five matches.
It was a glorious opportunity for the Senators to gain ground and stake a position above the cut-off line, but it was not to be. The Rangers left with 55 points; the Senators were left at 51 points.
Unfortunately, afternoon games have not been good to Ottawa. This was their seventh afternoon contest of the season, of which they have won just one, against the lowly Florida Panthers.
Up to this game, the Senators have had New York’s number in recent contests, having taken five consecutive wins – including two shutouts – before this first meeting of the season between the two. They will meet twice more before the playoffs begin.
Whether or not the Senators are part of those playoffs remains under discussion.