It had all the elements necessary for a great match.
The best road team in the Eastern Conference (8-1-2) up against the conference's best team at home (9-1-2). The playoff certainty of the deep Boston Bruins versus the surprise that the multi-injured Ottawa Senators might also get into the postseason.
Perhaps it wasn’t quite great, but it sure was, well, weird at times, right down to the final shootout that was required to decide matters – and even that was bizarre.
After the initial three shooters for each side failed to settle matters, Ottawa’s Kaspars Daugavins went in pushing the puck with the blade of his stick turned down, tried a spinnerama move – and utterly failed.
Boston’s fourth shooter, David Krejci scored on the next shot, giving Boston a 3-2 shootout victory.
Boston continued their road dominance; Ottawa slipped at home. The Senators have not beaten the Bruins at Scotiabank Place since April 7, 2009, losing now 10 straight matches at home to their division rivals.
“We were very deserving of a point, if not more,” said Ottawa head coach Paul MacLean.
This game was at times positively strange, and not just Daugavins's shootout dramatics – a play he once used to score a shootout goal in the minor leagues.
MacLean had no forewarning that the Latvian forward would try such a trick.
“My initial reaction when the stick went down was ‘Buckle up!’ ” MacLean said. With Daugavins, you never know what you’re going to get.
Ottawa scored on the team’s very first shot, taken by of all people Guillaume Latendresse, who has been out of the lineup so long with whiplash and migraines that the team had almost forgotten what number he wore.
“It’s 13 months since I last scored,” said the big winger, remembering back a year ago to a game in Winnipeg when he was with the Minnesota Wild.
The big, bad-luck free agent signing from summer picked up a bobbled puck from the Bruins, scooted in, stickhandled past Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask and neatly dropped the puck into the back of the net 55 seconds into the game.
It was not to be the last unexpected goal of the night.
Ottawa went up 2-0 when Kyle Turris, so snake-bitten since late January that he has grown scales, scored on a hard snap shot from deep in the slot that beat Rask.
“A confidence booster,” Turris said of the goal that broke his long drought.
Given that the unlikely were getting all the chances, Boston enforcer Shawn Thornton brought it to 2-1 in the last minute of the first period with a wobbly lifter that somehow leaked its way through Ottawa goaltender Robin Lehner.
And then, just to balance out the unexpected, Boston forward Daniel Paille found himself standing at centre ice with nothing between him and Parliament Hill but Lehner, not a Senator skater in his time zone. He casually skated – think of it as a mid-game shootout – in and wristed a hard shot past Lehner to tie the game at two goals apiece.
Nothing made sense for long stretches. Not the goalscorers, not the goaltending, not the sight of Ottawa tough guy Chris Neil crumpled in the corner after being taken hard into the boards by Boston defenceman Adam McQuaid. Not the sight of polite, easygoing Ottawa defenceman Patrick Wiercioch taking on McQuaid. And most assuredly not the sight of Wiercioch headed for the penalty box with 19 minutes of penalties: a five-minute major, a 10-minute misconduct, two minutes for being the instigator and two more minutes for wearing a face-shield while instigating a fight.
Only in the NHL would they think to penalize players for wearing face shields while others lose their careers for not wearing them.
Latendresse, who had missed 19 games due to illness and mystifying injury, was a surprise addition to the lineup by MacLean. MacLean said before the match that the hard-luck Latendresse had been brought in with the expectation that he would be a top-six forward for the game – and “That expectation has not changed.”
For a brief moment, Monday night, that expectation was more than met.
MacLean had also warned against complacency when playing the Bruins.
“They just wear you out,” he said. “We’ve got to play the whole 60 minutes – otherwise they’re going to grind you out.”
And that’s pretty much what happened…….
“We’re not trying to put on a show,” said Bruins forward and former Senator Chris Kelly, who left the game early in the second period after a centre-ice collision with former teammate Neil. Kelly was favouring his left leg as he was helped off.
In the end, MacLean was proved prescient in saying if his team did not play a full 60 minutes the Bruins would “grind” them down and steal the win back.
“We don’t win too often by big scores,” said Bruins head coach Claude Julien.
“It’s about being sound…so far it’s worked well for us.”
It certainly worked on this weird night when so very little worked.
If the fans came to see the stars – Boston’s Tyler Seguin, Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic, Zdeno Chara; Ottawa’s Daniel Alfredsson, can’t think of any other name – the sellout crowd of 20,256 had to be a tad disappointed by the lack of spectacular. Though the Bergeron line with Marchand and Seguin often had the puck, precious little happened with it.
The grinders and the obscure were the story this night.
And a showboat play that isn’t likely to be tried again…..