The Sochi Olympics aren’t about to fade away fast.
Certainly not if the memories and salutes continue on as they did in Ottawa on Thursday, when the Senators met the Detroit Red Wings in a post-Games break resumption of the 2013-14 NHL season.
By the time all the video tributes, special acknowledgments and Olympic references had been completed, many in the crowd of 18,931 might have thought that the team from the Motor City, rather appropriately, was actually the home team at the Canadian Tire Centre.
Many others might have wished so, as the Red Wings crushed the Senators 6-1 in a game that could have serious postseason repercussions for both.
With both teams playing their 60th games of the regular season, the Red Wings went into the match holding down the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 66 points. The Senators were two slots back with 63. An Ottawa win would have pulled the Sens to within one point of Detroit; instead, the loss puts them five back.
“When we play teams we’re battling with, we’re going to know they’re four-point games,” Ottawa captain Jason Spezza said before the match, “and it’s tough to make up points on teams that you’re chasing.”
Consider, then, the next 22 games guaranteed to be very tough, perhaps for all the Canadian teams chasing a playoff berth. What the Olympic break did, besides delight Canadian sports fans, was underline the pressures that come in the final quarter of the NHL’s regular season.
That there would be an Olympic subtext to the early games following the break was expected. In the Senators-Wings match, however, it was nearly the story itself.
Ottawa began the day by offering up true Winter Games weather – -11 C, blowing snow, poor visibility.
Real winter weather to greet those returning from the palm trees, blinding sunshine, shorts and bicycles that had been the norm in Sochi, Russia.
There were victorious women’s hockey players on hand – Canada goaltender Geneviève Lacasse, blueliner Laura Fortino and forward Meghan Agosta-Marciano – all wearing their gold medals and Olympic gear.
There was Senators defenceman Erik Karlsson, tied for top scorer in the men’s Olympic tournament, selected top defenceman of the tournament and fresh from, regrettably, joking he might sell his silver medal on eBay. And there was Ottawa forward Milan Michalek, who seemed to play better in Sochi for the Czech Republic than he has this season for the Senators.
But Detroit was the story of the night, with fully a dozen representatives on hand from the Sochi Games, including a remarkable six for the silver medal-winning Swedish team: Niklas Kronwall, Daniel Alfredsson, Henrik Zetterberg, Jonathan Ericsson, Gustav Nyquist and Jonas Gustavsson. (Another Swede, Johan Franzen, was chosen for the Olympic team but did not recover from injury in time to play.)
Other Wings involved included Russia captain Pavel Datsyuk, U.S. goaltender Jimmy Howard, Slovakian players Tomas Tator and Tomas Jurco, Team Canada coach Mike Babcock and Team Canada executive Ken Holland.
There were even players on hand with things to prove to those who went to Sochi. Senators forward Bobby Ryan was on the ice to show the American hockey brain trust that, had they only trusted in his hands, they might have answered the single goal that Canada needed to defeat U.S. in the semi-finals.
Three minutes into the game, it appeared as if Ryan might have done precisely that: giving Ottawa an early, and important, lead as the puck ended up behind Gustavsson following a goal-mouth scramble that left Ryan lying on the ice and the puck in the net. Unfortunately for Ottawa, video review showed he had kicked the puck in.
That early hope, however, soon dissipated into despair as the Wings took over the game and the Senators settled into what is arguably their worst effort of the season.
Promising Ottawa rookie Cody Ceci set the debacle in motion when the young defenceman inexplicable tried a blind drop pass in his own end, leaving the puck on the blade of Riley Sheahan for a quick wrist shot that beat goaltender Robin Lehner glove side.
Then, the Olympians took over.
Another Ottawa giveaway gave Franzen his 10th goal of the year. A perfect pass by Alfredsson gave Franzen his 11th. Jurco scored on a lovely behind-the-net pass from Tatar.
Franzen completed his hat trick to make it 5-0 before, wouldn’t you know, Ryan scored a real goal. Less than a minute later, Tatar from Jurco took it to 6-1 on only 16 shots.
That was it for Lehner. His replacement, however, was not Senators’ usual goalie Craig Anderson – in Florida with family for the birth of a child – but Andrew Hammond, a 26-year-old from Surrey, B.C., playing his very first NHL game.
And the crowd cheered every stop he made as if he were … an Olympian.
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