It’s not easy to keep your winter sports straight on an off day that is also sunny and mild.
Half the Ottawa Senators are playing soccer – miss a header, a knee shot, a toe flick and you’re out – and a couple of them are going as long as an arena corridor will allow for a football pass.
And Zenon Konopka isn’t talking trash for once, but ... tennis?
“This series, see, is a lot like a tennis match,” the Senators’ most-penalized player says. “Both teams are making good shots. I don’t think anyone is going to make an unforced error. You just have to put your shots away.”
This, of course, is still about hockey, the sport that long ago spilled over its natural season and is now virtually year-round in Canada. It is spring, and even if the Middle East were finally solved Canadians would have to wait for the game, even overtime, to be over before they’d find out.
Kyle Turris did put his shot away – the only shot the Senators had in overtime – when he wristed a puck past the glove of New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist 2:42 into extra time Wednesday night.
That 3-2 victory evened this best-of-seven series at two games each heading into Saturday’s next meeting at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers, top team in the Eastern Conference, will even concede that, at the moment, and in tennis terms, it’s “advantage Ottawa.”
“We’re going to play our game and try and grab back the momentum,” Rangers head coach John Tortorella said Thursday in a conference call with reporters.
The Senators, eighth and final seed in the East, certainly seemed full of that momentum as they gathered for their annual team pictures. No need for the photographer to tell them to smile.
“We’re a confident group going to New York,” Konopka said.
There is some reason for such a claim, despite the profound differences in the two teams during the regular season. Ottawa has won both overtime games, one in New York and one at home, both goals coming from unlikely sources: first Chris Neil, now Turris. Both teams have seen their big guns – Jason Spezza, Milan Michalek and defenceman Erik Karlsson for Ottawa, Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards and Ryan Callahan for the Rangers – mostly sputter, virtually unnoticed.
Further, the Senators have been without their captain and top playoff performer Daniel Alfredsson since he was concussed by Carl Hagelin’s elbow in Game 2; the Rangers have only been missing Hagelin, a lesser force, through his three-game suspension for the head shot.
In the opinion of Ottawa head coach Paul MacLean, the series has been so even, so well played by its depth lines, that the Rangers “could argue they should have won it in four” – but so, too, could his Senators say the same. Apart from a poor first game, won easily by the Rangers, this series has been hockey at its best, largely devoid of foolishness and filled with great saves and effort. Both Lundqvist and Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson have played magnificently.
What small momentum there is, then, does indeed go to Ottawa, merely for having won on Wednesday. “I think so,” Spezza said. “When you have a couple of days off it’s nice to come off a win. We hope to carry some momentum and maybe get them second guessing what they’re doing. But for the most part it’s been such a close series that I don’t think either team is going to abandon what they’re doing.”
Tortorella certainly has no intention of doing so. “I thought we played really well,” he said of the overtime loss.
“We just didn’t get it done in overtime.”
Asked directly about the unimpressive play of some of his top players, Tortorella said he had no intention of “naming names” – as if specifically naming them were necessary.
MacLean is equally circumscribed about pointing fingers, but was caught on camera in the third period of Game 4 yanking a game sheet from his jacket pocket and showing it to Spezza on the bench.
What did he say to you? Spezza was asked after the team picture had been taken.
“‘You’ve taken seven shots and not one of them has hit the net,’” Spezza volunteered.
Spezza’s response on the bench? “‘Thanks, Tips.’”
None of the non-scoring stars have to be told; they know better than anyone that they have yet to come through with what is expected of them. They also know they are being watched closely, much closer than during the regular season when their scoring abilities raised those expectations so high.
“You can’t get frustrated,” MacLean said. “At this time of year, frustration is a wasted motion.”
The answer, he said, was the same for any game, no matter where played, no matter what its importance.
“Just keep doing what you’re doing.
“Stick to it…
“Stick to it.”