Belief, once it takes
root, can be a dangerous thing.
Ask the Pittsburgh Penguins, who ran up against a club in the Ottawa Senators that looked dead in the water with barely a minute to play in the third period.
They weren't, and now, after Ottawa's 2-1 double-overtime win, they're in a series.
"We never quit," said defenceman Erik Karlsson, who played a game-high 39:48.
Added Karlsson's defensive partner Marc Methot, "you have to believe that you belong here, otherwise what the hell are you doing?"
After the opening two games of the series, dominated by Pittsburgh, there may have been questions creeping in as to whether the Sens do indeed belong in a match-up with the mighty Penguins.
The Senators will be approaching game four on home ice Wednesday, with a new purpose.
"Next game is huge for us, I think if we tie it up anything can happen in this series," said Methot, adding Sunday's victory will serve as a confidence boost for the squad, and allow younger players "to maybe not squeeze their stick as much."
It looked to all the world as if the Ottawa Senators, despite a spirited effort, were about to be consigned to an 0-3 series disadvantage.
Down 1-0 to a Pittsburgh Penguins team that was putting on a clinic on how to protect a lead, the Sens saw the merest of openings, and burst through it.
If there is a criticism to be made of the powerful Pens, it’s that their defencemen have a tendency toward being ponderous.
Ottawa did its level best to exploit that vulnerability throughout the game – while also asserting itself physically at every opportunity – and with 28.6 seconds to play in regulation they finally did.
With his team on the power-play, the Pens’ Chris Kunitz dumped the puck deep in the Ottawa end, where it was retrieved by Chris Phillips.
A quick outlet to 40-year-old captain Daniel Alfredsson, who lugged it through centre and dished to Sergei Gonchar; a quick pass to a Milan Michalek on the left side boards, a distracted moment by Pens’ defencemen Paul Martin and Kris Letang, and Alfredsson found himself all alone in front of the net to tip Michalek’s feed into the top corner.
"It looked like they had it wrapped up, but (Michalek) threw a great pass to me, and I was able to chip it over the glove," Alfredsson said.
There is a particular loudness to the playoffs, the din in Scotiabank Place was merely the latest proof.
In the first overtime, Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson – magnificent this night, as was counterpart Tomas Vokoun – stepped to the fore, repelling an Evgeni Malkin shot after the latter slalomed through four Senators in the early going.
Then he turned away Brandon Sutter in tight and stopped Jarome Iginla’s fierce slap shot; there was a steady stream of close calls, Vokoun was considerably less busy.
In the second overtime, the Senators survived a Pittsburgh power-play, then winger Colin Greening poked a rebound past Vokoun at the side of the net on the Senators’ 48th shot of the night to seal a thrilling 2-1 win that gives Ottawa a toe-hold in the series.
"We're going to overtime, if we lose we're going down 3-0, which is tough to come back from in any series, if we won there's a big swing there, we wanted to take advantage of it and we're just happy we won," said the overtime hero.
Greening sported a deep cut on this left cheek, courtesy of a high stick - team doctors pulled several large pieces of fibreglass composite out of his face during the second period, and cleaned out the rest after the game.
Truthfully, the Sens could have had no complaints at losing this game.
They missed open nets – Chris Neil will wonder how he didn’t score when left alone by Vokoun’s net in the third – they gave Pittsburgh power-play chances, and they largely seemed content to let goalie Craig Anderson don the hero’s cape.
"We had lots of good looks . . . but Anderson was up to the task," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said after the game.
"I thought both goaltenders were extremely good, and Anderson was one better at the end."
After an iffy outing in game two – he was pulled early in the second period after giving up three goals – he needed to be.
With Pittsburgh on the power-play in the opening period, Anderson denied Kris Letang with a nifty pad save, and a few seconds later did the same to Malkin.
Then, in the opening minute of the second period, the American goalie thwarted Crosby on a partial breakaway.
The Penguins were on the power-play at that point, and would be handed a 59 second five-on-three advantage when a calamitous line change resulted in a bench minor for too many players on the ice.
Few situations in playoff hockey are more unnerving, but the Senators had the NHL’s top penalty killing unit in the regular season, and bolstered by Anderson’s feats they held their nerve.
When Ottawa defenceman Chris Phillips broke his stick, the Pens worked the puck patiently, creating an opening for Malkin in the high slot – but Anderson was equal to the task.
Malkin slammed his stick on the ice in disgust.
Senators fans will see it as a tribute to the brilliance of their goaltender.
With files from Roy MacGregor