It was a time for caution on the roads, perhaps, with winter behaving like an obnoxious drunk who refuses to leave – but what called for a yellow flag the Scotiabank Place ice surface?
Whatever became of “desperate” hockey?
It took 59 minutes to decide this stilted match between the Boston Bruins and the Ottawa Senators when, on the third weak goal of the game, Dennis Seidenberg scored on a long points shot that beat Ottawa goaltender Robin Lehner and gave Boston a 2-1 victory.
“I just tried to get it on net,” said Seidenberg. “I think he didn’t see it.”
Most of Thursday’s match was as smothering as the papal election coverage. The first period was hockey as it was never intended to be played, with pucks endlessly “touched” as they blew by centre and dumped into the opposition end, after which the other team would merely repeat the action. With the referees refusing to call even obvious fouls, there were no power plays to wake the crowd. But for a wayward puck bouncing dangerously off a stanchion back of Ottawa netminder Robin Lehner and a brief flurry at the crease of Boston goalie Anton Khudobin in the very final seconds of the period, it was 20-minutes of torture.
What could cause this at a time when teams are supposedly entering the “stretch” leading into the postseason?
The Senators were understandably cautious as they had not beaten the Bruins at Scotiabank Place since April 7, 2009, a nearly four-year span that involved 10 straight Boston victories.
Make that 11 now.
“We’ll have to make this our home rink,” Boston coach Claude Julien had joked earlier in the day, “and take advantage of it.”
As for the Bruins, they were coming off their first two-game losing streak of the season, most recently allowing Winnipeg Jets to storm back in the third period Tuesday for a 3-1 win. And the “Pesky Senators,” it is now well recorded, may be the most-dangerous third-period team in hockey, having scored four third-period goals in their Tuesday game to defeat the New York Islanders 5-1 and win their third match in a row.
“Gotta win, simple as that,” said Julien before the match. “We gotta get back to playing our game. We haven’t been playing our best hockey lately and that’s why we’ve lost the last two games.
“There’s ups and downs during the season, and you have to work your way through it. That’s what we have to do.”
The “downs” held control for much of this evening. Ottawa finally woke the sellout crowd of 19,603 nearly five minutes into the second period when little-used Kaspars Daugavins came down the left boards and whistled a wrist-shot that flew high into the far side of Khudobin’s net for his first goal of the year.
Sergei Gonchar, who assisted on the Daugavins goal, set a new franchise record for defencemen by recording assists in nine straight games. Gonchar missed the final few shifts of the game, however, with an undisclosed injury. Losing the fragile 38-year-old for any amount of time would be yet another devastating blow to the injury-riddled Senators.
Daugavins had been a surprise starter, as Ottawa head coach Paul MacLean had scratched forward Jim O’Brien from the lineup and inserted Daugavins. It may well have been because a visiting minor hockey team from Latvia had attended the practices and Daugavins, one of the country’s few hockey stars, had gone out of his way to welcome them.
That’s generally how it works with the 2013 Ottawa Senators: it doesn’t always make sense, but it mostly seems to work.
Lineup fiddling has become as familiar to MacLean as breathing in 2013, as he deals with a revolving door of replacement players – though there was good news Thursday when the most recent casualty, defenceman Marc Methot, put his right knee to the test in a light skate and should soon be back.
“All I know is we play 20 players and we expect them to play,” said MacLean. “Nothing we can do about the players we don’t have.”
Boston then scored their own weak goal when forward Danielle Paille took a long lead pass from defenceman Johnny Boychuk and fired a wrist shot from almost the same distance as Daugavins, this one somehow slipping between Lehner’s body and glove to even the score at 1-1.
Then, with only 1:04 left in the game, Boston’s Patrice Bergeron, perhaps the best faceoff man in the game, won one in the Ottawa end, got the puck back to big Zdeno Chara who fed Seidenberg for the one-timer.
“We stopped playing for a little bit and it cost us the game,” said MacLean.
“We lost the faceoff clean, and we screened the goalie – and it went in.”
The Bruins are chasing Montreal Canadiens for the Northeast Division lead and this week could prove pivotal in that race. Boston will play the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Saturday, then meet the Leafs again in Boston on Monday and will host the Canadiens on Wednesday.
Privately, there are those in the Ottawa Senators organization hoping this happens, as the current playoff configuration would strongly suggest the possibility of a first-round matchup between the Canadians and Senators – a “417 Series” for the first time since the Senators were re-born in 1992.