Most NHL teams have a historical weakness, but perhaps the Ottawa Senators’ seemingly endless search for a proper playoff goalie is at an end.
Having turned in sparkling performance in Ottawa’s 3-2 overtime triumph in game four of the first round series with the New York Rangers, Anderson did one better on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.
The 30-year-old turned in what might be a performance for the ages, saving all 41 New York Ranger shots this night to post the first post-season shutout of his career - several of his stops were of the improbable variety.
The Rangers were comfortably the better team in all but the most crucial of respects, on the scoreboard, and couldn't overcome an Ottawa squad that desperately nursed an early one-goal lead.
And look everyone, the eighth-seeded Senators are up three games to two against the heavily-favoured conference champions and will have a chance to close it out at home on Monday.
Asked how he felt after the game, Anderson just smiled and said “relieved.”
“Everyone in here put their hard hats on and came to work tonight, we had a great start, and were able to jump out to the lead,” he said.
To think that the victory owes something to a kid who saw New York’s bright lights for the first time on Friday - trading Brandon, Man., for the Big Apple in less than a week.
On just his second NHL shift, 19-year-old rookie winger Mark Stone made a slick dish to Jason Spezza, who opened the scoring at 9:18 of the first period.
He added his second of the game into an empty net in the final minute to make it 2-0.
“The 2-2 game is a big game, it puts pressure on the other team and gives you two chances to close it out, and now we’re heading home and hopefully we can give our best game and do it in front of our crowd,” Spezza said.
As to breaking his first-round scoring duck, Spezza said “it’s always nice to get on the scoreboard . . . as a goal-scorer you get on a bit of a roll, so hopefully that’s the case for me.”
Ottawa coach Paul MacLean praised his team’s effort, saying it came down to sharp penalty killing and the competitiveness displayed by veterans like tough guy Zenon Konopka, who played 10:40, won 10 of 12 faceoffs and chipped in an assist on Spezza’s second goal.
MacLean also agreed with the contention that the team badly wants to win for injured captain Daniel Alfredsson, who was concussed by a Carl Hagelin elbow in game two.
“I think its legitimate caring from his teammates,” MacLean said.
After the game Rangers coach John Tortorella praised his team’s performance (“we played good, we just couldn’t score”), and also took aim at Ottawa’s Chris Neil for a questionable hit in the third period on New York’s Brian Boyle.
The hit happened as Boyle swung into the middle of the ice and shot the puck, Neil laid his shoulder into him a beat after it was gone.
Though Boyle played three shifts after the hit, he couldn’t continue.
“He’s concussed, he’s out,” said Tortorella, who fumed that Neil "launched himself" into what was “a dangerous, dangerous cheap hit.”
Tortorella said the blow was “exactly the same thing” as Phoenix Coyotes forward Raffi Torres’ hit on Chicago’s Marian Hossa which landed the latter in the hospital and the former with a 25-game suspension.
“They have a blue-print, not a lot of research to do there,” said Tortorella, who added he was sure Neil, like Torres, is a repeat offender (he isn’t; Neil was fined once, before the 2004 lock-out, but has never been suspended).
Neil, unsurprisingly, took a different view of the incident.
“He’s cutting across the middle with his head down, obviously I’m putting back pressure and trying to bust back and get in good position and I’m a physical player out there, I think it’s a clean hit. Obviously he was slow getting up, but I think it probably just knocked the wind out of him, I caught him right in the chest. He’s a big man, it takes a lot out of me giving those hits too,” he said.
Boyle has had a running battle with several Senators since he battered diminutive Ottawa defenceman Erik Karlsson with several punches in game one. In the next game, Ottawa defenceman Matt Carkner rained blows down on Boyle - earning a one-game suspension.
Neil's hit wasn't the only one that might spark controversy in this game.
The Senators might also argue that New York’s Mike Rupp should be due an audience with the league to talk about a charging penalty on Ottawa’s Jim O’Brien in the second period - Rupp took a healthy run at O’Brien and the principal point of contact was the head.
O’Brien was able to continue, Rupp was given a two-minute penalty.
Commissioner Gary Bettman was in the crowd, as he was the night Torres took out Hossa, when his presence a the game was pointed out to Tortorella, he snapped “wonderful.”
In the Ottawa room Anderson and Spezza were lavished with praise by their teammates, but so was the 19-year-old Stone, who racked up 41 goals and 123 points in the Western Hockey League this past year and was playing his first NHL game.
“Some guys just know how to get themselves open, and he’s one of those guys,” said Spezza.
Stone described his first taste of the big league as “pretty unbelievable.”
“It’s been a whirlwind, just to be able to play tonight and to contribute was great,” he said.
Despite a vigorous start from the Rangers which saw Chris Kreider, Ryan McDonaugh and Marian Gaborik spurn solid scoring chances - Gaborik even buried Sergei Gonchar with a heavy check - it was the Senators who jumped out to their first lead of the series.
With a penalty to Sergei Gonchar having just expired, the Senators counter-attacked from a Rangers rush with Filip Kuba sending a sumptuous 50-foot diagonal pass to Stone, who stood by the boards near the New York blue line.
Stone broke in on the right wing side and slipped a nifty feed through McDonaugh’s skates to Spezza, who unleashed a wicked wrist shot that beat Henrik Lundqvist in the New York goal.
Spezza celebrated his first goal of these playoffs by punching the glass behind the New York net.
The Rangers were unable to convert on three power-play chances in the period - the last of which came after Spezza took an ill-advised swipe at New York captain Ryan Callahan late in the frame - and were booed off the ice for their trouble.
It didn’t help that the best scoring chance of the man-advantage fell to Ottawa’s Erik Condra, who sped in on a short-handed breakaway only to be thwarted by Lundqvist.
The teams traded chances in the second period, during which it was the Senators’ turn to blow three power-play opportunities - they were also denied on a pair of breakaways, first Milan Michalek, then Colin Greening were turned away by Lundqvist.
Greening also infuriated the Rangers by hitting Gaborik after the latter had passed the puck.
The third period began with the Rangers on the front foot, but Craig Anderson denied Derek Stepan on a close-in chance.
Moments later, Stepan whiffed on a sweet set-up from Boyle, the Rangers’ early-series hero.
With Ottawa under seige, Matt Carkner blocked a shot from Brandon Prust, who fired the rebound narrowly wide.
The Rangers had a chance to even matters with a late power-play - Milan Michalek was banished for tripping Ruslan Fedotenko near the Ottawa net - but once again couldn’t solve Anderson.