Simply and accurately put, there is no hyperbole too large to use.
Not once NHL hockey passes the trading deadline, hits the quarter pole and digs in the spurs to the finish line of the regular season.
“It’s the biggest game of the year,” head coach Paul MacLean said Monday, as his Ottawa Senators prepared to meet the Nashville Predators. “With all the implications that go along with it.”
Considering the outcome – a dramatic Ottawa comeback from being down 3-0 to tie the game and force overtime, which the Predators won 4-3 on rookie Seth Jones’s goal – those implications are going to sting, even with the valiant single point.
First is in the all-important standings. With both Ottawa (28-25-11) and Nashville (26-28-10) standing in 12th place in their respective conferences at the drop of the puck, a clear win for the Sens could have moved them closer to that desperately-coveted final playoff spot, then just four points away.
The single going was welcome, considering the start of the game, but every squandered point is considered lethal this time of year.
A good showing for Ottawa would also be an argument in favour of the surprise move by general manager Bryan Murray at last Wednesday’s trading deadline when he moved to pick up Edmonton Oilers veteran Ales Hemsky for a third- and a fifth-round draft pick. Hemsky gave a very good showing indeed, setting up all three of Ottawa’s late goals.
While Hemsky almost single-handedly – remember, hyperbole allowed – put the Senators temporarily out of the playoff race the night before, when his two goals led the lowly Oilers to a 3-2 win over Ottawa, his three assists were instrumental last Saturday, as the Senators defeated the Winnipeg Jets 5-3 and briefly reignited those playoff hopes.
For Hemsky, merely being in the playoff hunt is something novel. “I wasn’t in those games for probably the last seven years,” he said Monday. “I like those games.”
So it seems. Yet, it took until the third period for Hemsky to work his considerable magic, but by then the Predators had a 3-0 hold on the game.
Had the Senators played the first two periods the way they did the third there might have been a different outcome. But they were so listless over the opening 40 minutes the players were booed by some among the sellout crowd of 19,063 as they left the ice.
They certainly weren’t booing by the end of third.
One of Nashville’s early shots, by captain Shea Weber, almost tore the left shoulder off Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson. Anderson eventually continued to play, but left early in the third period, when he was bumped in the shoulder area by teammate Milan Michalek.
Backup Robin Lehner played out the remainder of the game and played well until Jones scored the winner.
Another Weber shot struck Ottawa defenceman Cody Ceci on the back of the helmet and cut the rookie badly enough to put him out of the game.
Nashville’s problems this season are largely related to losing ace goaltender Pekka Rinne for all but 12 early games due to a nasty infection. Rinne returned to action this past week, and was stellar against Ottawa. In the first period alone, his cobra-like glove (hyperbole okay, remember) robbed pinching defenceman Erik Karlsson on a perfect setup by centre Jason Spezza.
The Predators took charge in the second period. Nick Spaling managed to tip a Michael Del Zotto point shot past Anderson. Less than two minutes later, another tipped point shot – this time, Craig Smith getting the blade of his stick on a shot by Mattias Ekholm – put the Preds ahead 2-0.
Late in the period, Nashville launched a 3-on-1 rush with only defenceman Marc Methot back. Methot managed to poke-check the lead puck carrier, but the puck went straight to Nashville forward Eric Nystrom, who easily beat Anderson.
The Senators finally put a good shift together in the third when Hemsky, a stickhandling wizard, worked the puck around until Spezza was able to poke it out into the slot area where, in the midst of a traffic jam, defenceman Jared Cowen was able to chip it past Rinne for his fifth goal of the year.
Hemsky again was the catalyst when he got the puck to Spezza, back of the Nashville net, and Spezza spied Methot pinching in from the point. For Methot, it was his sixth goal of the season.
Then, with barely a minute left, Ottawa tied the game 3-3 when Spezza scored from … yes … Hemsky.
What it all meant for Ottawa, of course, was that next game will be the “biggest game of the year.”
Until either games or hyperbole run out.
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