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The Globe and Mail

Ottawa jumps out in front with Game 1 victory

Eighty-six years.

From Charles Lindbergh flying The Spirit of St. Louis across the Atlantic to Commander Chris Hadfield trying to spend plastic money in outer space.

From a prime minister who talks to his dog to a prime minister who tweets pictures of his cat.

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From the first talking pictures to television you wish would just shut up.

It had been 86 years since the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators last met in the Stanley Cup playoffs. This seems improbable given that the Senators have run up against, and been squashed by, the Toronto Maple Leafs four times since Ottawa came back into the league in 1992-93. That year, coincidentally, was the last time a Canadian team – the Canadiens – won the Cup.

Yet Montreal and Ottawa had never met in all that time – until now.

All hail the one-anthem playoff game.

Certainly among the many things that have changed would be the atmosphere outside the rinks: suits and smokes and perhaps the odd fur-draped flapper back in 1927; red jerseys, shorts, tank tops, trays of Molson beer, tents, screaming music and even a mechanical bull set up outside the Bell Centre in 2013.

One thing that hasn't changed, this modern game would show before the night was done, is the sheer, surprising, shocking violence that can sometimes rise – even in an otherwise superbly played match.

Inside the old Montreal Forum in 1927, the Canadiens and Senators were two of but 10 NHL teams. There were two divisions – happily, Canada and U.S. – and this section final would decide which team would play the final.

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The old Senators of "King" Clancy and "Fearless" Frank Finnigan smoked the old Habs of Aurel Joliat and Howie Morenz in front of a disgruntled and unimpressed crowd of 13,500. The Canadiens, after all, had been heavy favourites.

And they were favourites again going into Thursday's match in Montreal, 2013, with the Canadiens the second seed in the Eastern Conference and Ottawa seventh.

In 1927, Game 2 (there would be only two) was played in the old Ottawa Auditorium in front of 10,000 delirious fans as the Senators came out of a rough contest with a 1-1 tie and a ticket to the final, where they defeated the Boston Bruins over four games for what would be the Senators', and Ottawa's, last Stanley Cup.

This paper reported on Tuesday, April 5, 1927, that the Canadiens had opened the scoring in that critical match. "Then Ottawa," The Globe continued, "sensing that the grueling pace had taken a heavy toll on the visitors, bore down with a vengeance."

Somewhat the same could be said for the Canadiens this night in 2013 when, down 1-0 after one period, they "bore down with a vengeance" in the second and tied the game following a dominant penalty kill in which Montreal had far more scoring chances than the Ottawa power play.

Not surprisingly, the two most compelling personalities going into the game – Ottawa defenceman Erik Karlsson and Montreal defender P.K. Subban – were the best players on the ice, with Karlsson scoring Ottawa's opening goal and Subban setting up the first Montreal goal, by Rene Bourque.

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The most compelling moment, however, was at 13:28 of the second period, when Montreal forward Lars Eller, trying to salvage a bad pass, crashed to the ice following a thundering shoulder from Ottawa rookie defenceman Eric Gryba. Eller lay in silence as the crowd watched a pool of blood form and trainers called for medical help to deal with the unconscious forward. It was a heart-stopping moment in an otherwise exhilarating game.

The blood was more in keeping with the 1927 final between Ottawa and Boston when matters turned so nasty late in the series that unheard-of fines were levied and the Bruins' Billy Coutu was suspended, expelled from the league and never played another game in the NHL.

And yet, so much has indeed changed in hockey over those more than eight decades. Karlsson's goal, for example, would not have counted in 1927 as forward passes (such as he received from Kyle Turris) were not allowed. It was not until the next year that players could pass ahead in their own zone and in the neutral zone, and not until 1929-30 that such passes were permitted everywhere.

Then again, no teams in 1927 had an American (the Canadiens' Brian Gionta) or a Swede (the Senators' Daniel Alfredsson) as captain.

In the power play that followed the injury to Eller, Montreal avenged the penalized blow when Brendan Gallagher swiped a Tomas Plekanec pass in behind Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson for the lead.

When the original Senators had control over the original Habs, this paper reported in 1927 that "Ottawa skated out to a thunderous ovation commencing the third period."

So, too, did the 2013 Montreal Canadiens – but the cheering soon passed as Ottawa tied, then went ahead on goals by defenceman Marc Methot and Guillaume Latendresse.

For an opening game, this 4-2 Ottawa victory on enemy ice had everything required – speed, excitement, crushing collisions, controversy – to say this might very well turn out to be a series for the ages.

Any age.

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