They pulled out all the stops.
The Ottawa Senators called themselves “Family” and wore red hoodies with their number and nickname on the right sleeve. They handed out white towels for the 20,340 fans to wave. The fans held up their “We Believe” signs. And with the Prime Minster Stephen Harper in attendance, OPP Constable Lyndon Slewidge threw his heart as well as his lungs into a stirring national anthem.
The Ottawa Senators absolutely needed to rebound; they very nearly died by rebound.
Down two games to one to the No. 1 Eastern Conference seed New York Rangers, the No. 8 seed Ottawa Senators desperately needed a win at home in order to even the series before heading off to New York for Saturday’s Game 5.
They managed it the hard way, coming back from a 2-0 deficit to win 3-2 in overtime when Kyle Turris scored on a wrist shot that beat New York’s brilliant goaltender Henrik Lundqvist to the glove side at 2:42 of the first extra period.
“Scoring a goal in the Stanley Cup playoffs in overtime is something every kid dreams of,” said a delighted Turris.
There will now be at least one more home game for the surprising Senators as this series will at least go to a Game 6. And the possibility remains that Daniel Alfredsson, the longest-serving captain in the NHL, could return from the concussion he suffered at the elbow of New York’s Carl Hagelin in Game 2. Hagelin earned a three-game suspension for the hit and Alfredsson has not played since. It remains possible that the 39-year-old all-star could have played his last game as a Senator – also possible that he hasn't now that there are games still left for him to play.
“Win it for Alfie!” read a sign a young fan held up for the cameras.
But things began to go wrong shortly after the opening roar of the crowd had died down. Ottawa’s Zack Smith took a boarding penalty at the 39-second mark and, 10 seconds later, New York’s Brad Richards fired the game’s first shot hard into the chest of Senators goaltender Craig Anderson.
A fat rebound landed on Anton Stralman’s stick and the Rangers had the lead.
Less than six minutes into the opening period, Ottawa’s all-star defenceman Erik Karlsson got trapped into taking a tripping penalty. Twenty-five seconds later, Richards had another shot on Anderson, another fat rebound; Marian Gaborik shot, another rebound; and all Rangers captain Ryan Callahan, standing unmolested to Anderson’s right, had to do was tuck the puck into the open short side.
Two power plays, three rebounds and a 2-0 New York lead.
“They scored on a couple of bad rebounds,” said Anderson, “and that hurt.”
But only for a while.
It is not known what Ottawa head coach Paul MacLean said, or screamed, between the first and second periods, but something happened. The Senators came out and played as they had in Game 3, which they had lost 1-0 but which was, by far, the best game of this series. MacLean had said earlier in the day that he was perfectly satisfied with his team’s play – “Just not satisfied with the results.”
He had to find great satisfaction in this second period. Instead of giving up, his team did become “family” – defence working with goaltender to eliminate the awful rebounds, forwards coming back hard to help.
At the end of a well-defended New York power play, Jason Spezza spotted defenceman Matt Carkner coming out of the penalty box and sent the big defender, far better known for his fists than his hands, down ice with the puck. Carkner managed a cross-crease pass to a charging Milan Michalek and Michalek’s backhand eluded Lundqvist.
Despite the explosion of the crowd, you could still hear the sigh of relief from Michalek, who has been roundly criticized for his unproductive postseason play. It was the first goal of the playoffs for the 35-goal scorer during the regular season.
Spezza, as well, was relieved, as the team’s top scorer and best player had also raised doubts. His confidence back, Spezza began carrying the puck more, in this case an unwise choice. In a later power play, in which he attempted to dipsy-doodle his way through the Rangers defence, he was hit by a crushing check by defenceman Marc Staal and had to leave the game – fortunately for the Senators, only until the third period.
Eight seconds after Spezza left the ice, the Ottawa power play – minus Alfredsson, temporarily minus Spezza – tied the game when a point shot by defenceman Sergei Gonchar leaked through Lundqvist.
The third period was spectacular, well played, cleanly played, with both Anderson and Lundqvist at times sensational in keeping pucks out.
“That’s what makes him great,” Ottawa forward Nick Foligno said of Lundqvist, “giving you something and then taking it away.” The same could be said for Anderson, who made several Dominik Hasek-style saves flat on his back.
“'Andy’ did a great job,” Carkner said.
“Now we’re in the series,” Spezza said.
And what a series it is.