All things must end – even weird streaks.
The Ottawa Senators had a chance to tie the NHL record of 12 one-goal games in a row, set back in 1997-98.
And the Winnipeg Jets had one of their own going, having gained points in the past six games, including five impressive wins.
Both runs hit a wall Sunday as the Senators scored a three-goal victory when they defeated the Jets 4-1.
For Ottawa head coach Paul MacLean, all that mattered was that the games end up in the ‘W’ column rather than the ‘L’: “Could be one goal, two goals, doesn’t matter to me.”
The Senators now move to an impressive 36 points after 29 games. The Jets, with 32 points, had hoped to move into a points tie with Ottawa with their own eye-opening run, but are now four points back.
“It wasn’t our best game, that’s for sure,” said Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec.
“They were the better team.”
In truth, both Ottawa and Winnipeg have been better teams than expected. The standings in the eastern conference Sunday morning were laughing at the experts:
The Montreal Canadiens in first place; Winnipeg Jets leading their division and holding down third place; the injury-riddled Ottawa Senators in fifth, two shots up on sixth-place Toronto Maple Leafs, who began the season by firing their general manager for all he had failed to accomplish.
On such a weekend like this, the Pope might not even be Italian.
Ottawa and Winnipeg were both coming off day-before victories, the Senators 4-3 winners over the Buffalo Sabres in overtime Saturday afternoon, the Jets 5-4 victors in an evening shootout against the Maple Leafs.
After a first period Saturday in Buffalo in which the Senators looked as if it were the day after St. Patrick’s Day instead of the day before, the Senators came out very strong at home against the Jets.
Shots in the opening period were 19-6 in favour of Ottawa and had Pavelec not been playing well in the Winnipeg net the score could have been greater than 2-0.
“If we could bottle that,” MacLean said of his team’s effort in the opening 20 minutes, “we’d be pretty happy.”
“We just didn’t get the start we wanted,” said speedy Jets forward Blake Wheeler.
Ottawa’s first goal came on an odd play as captain Daniel Alfredsson kicked, poked, begged, bribed and willed the puck through a gauntlet of Jets defenders to the net and, on command, the puck appeared to jump right over Pavelec and into the net.
It was only later that the goal was credited to Alfredsson’s linemate Guillaume Latendresse, whose stick had apparently slightly changed the looping puck’s direction.
Ottawa went up by two on a powerplay when defenceman Sergei Gonchar sent a perfect cross-slot pass to rookie Jakob Silfverberg, who snapped a quick shot past Pavelec’s blocker.
The Jets were far better value in the second as they managed 10 shots at Ottawa goaltender Robin Lehner. Lehner, who had played five games, never lost in regulation, yet had only one win to show for his fine effort, was rock solid Sunday.
The Jets finally scored in the third when defenceman Zach Bogosian blasted a shot from the point that ticked off one, perhaps two, players crowding the net and ended up high in the netting back of Lehner.
Twice the overtime hero of Ottawa’s Saturday victory, Kyle Turris, had stunning opportunities to put Ottawa in front to stay, only to be stopped once by Pavelec and miss the net on a second chance. Moments later, a frustrated Turris was sent off for tripping, giving the Jets a much-needed power play.
They could not, however, get anything past Lehner, with Ottawa quickly gaining their own power play when big Winnipeg defenceman Dustin Byfuglien was sent off for goaltender interference.
Lehner’s best save of the day, however, came on his team’s power play, when Wheeler and Evander Kane came down on a two-on-one break and Wheeler sent a perfect pass over to Kane, who one-timed the puck hard – but into the lanky Lehner’s outstretched left pad.
“I’m sure he’s bummed out about it,” Wheeler said of Kane’s missed opportunity. “Nine times out of 10 that goes somewhere in the net.”
“I thought the difference in the game was Robin,” said MacLean.
“I thought we played awesome,” Lehner added, preferring to credit his teammates for the impressive victory.
When the Jets almost immediately received another penalty – this time for delay of game – the Senators were able to move to 3-1 on a brilliant passing play among Sergei Gonchar, Alfredsson and Turris that had Turris score an identical goal to the Saturday overtime winner, one-timing a shot from the left circle.
Ottawa went ahead 4-1 when Silfverberg was allowed to circle in from the left corner and fire a hard shot that Pavelec could not handle.
It was a welcome St.Paddy’s Day victory for the sellout crowd of 19,207.
Even if the three best players on the ice were all Swedes: Lehner, Alfredsson and Silfverberg.