Call it The Butterfly Effect.
The Ottawa Senators were calling Wednesday “a great day” even before the anthems, long before they steamrolled over the defending Stanley Cup-champion Pittsburgh Penguins 5-1 to take a two-games-to-one lead in the Eastern Conference final.
Earlier they had learned that Jonathan Pitre, known as “The Butterfly Boy” and both a great fan and a favourite of the Ottawa players, now has a stem cell transplant that is working.
The 16-year-old Grade 11 student from nearby Russel, Ont., suffers from epidermolysis bullosa, a rare disease that causes painful blistering and tearing of the skin. Sufferers rarely reach into their 20s. A stem-cell transplant attempted last fall had failed, but a second one, using stem cells donated by his mother Tina Boileau and completed April 13 at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital, appears to have taken.
“It’s a great day today,” Ottawa head coach Guy Boucher said before the game. “We’re thinking about you.”
So, too, was the sellout crowd at Canadian Tire Centre, offering a standing ovation when a photograph of Pitre in the hospital appeared on the scoreboard.
The fans may as well have started the game standing and stayed on their feet. At one point the Senators scored three goals in 2:18, a franchise record.
“To have an outburst like that,” said Ottawa forward Kyle Turris, “it’s big – especially at home.”
Finally deciding to play aggressive hockey – no doubt inspired by the increasingly depleted Pittsburgh defence – the Senators roared to an early lead when, 48 seconds into the game, forward Mike Hoffman slashed at a puck well to the side of the Pittsburgh net and the first shot of the game bounced in off Penguins goaltender Marc-André Fleury. For Hoffman, it was his fifth goal of the postseason.
“That doesn’t happen very often,” said Hoffman. “More a flukey thing than anything.”
Barely past the halfway mark of the first, the Senators went ahead 2-0 on a goal by, of all things, stay-at-home defenceman Marc Methot pinching so deep in the Penguins zone that he found himself taking a high shot that hit Fleury, bounced down and Methot was able to backhand his own rebound into the net for his second of the playoffs.
“The crowd got into it,” said Hoffman. “We just took it from there.”
Less than two minutes later it was Ottawa again, winning the puck on an aggressive fore-check – where did that come from? – and so confusing the slow-moving Pittsburgh defenders that Derick Brassard was able to clip the puck past Fleury from close in. It was Brassard’s fourth goal of the playoffs.
They went ahead 4-0 only 24 seconds later, as forward Zack Smith came down with the puck, swept around sluggish Pittsburg defender Brian Dumoulin, carried the puck around the back of the net and scored his first of the spring on Fleury with a wraparound.
That was it for Fleury, the 9-5 record and .931 save average he brought to the game instantly forgotten.
“We got a few good bounces,” said Smith. “We worked pretty hard for our goals tonight.”
“We’ve done a better job of transitioning,” said Boucher.
Matt Murray, the 22-year-old Thunder Bay native who was a sensation in the Penguins 2016 Cup win, skated out to replace Fleury.
This game was a middle finger aimed at those – The Globe and Mail high among them – who have been critical of the Senators’ neutral-zone trapping and defence first, second and third.
Asked if the players were aware of the growing debate over this dreary style of play, little centre Jean-Gabriel Pageau merely smiled and said, “We’re here.”
This game proved they are indeed here and possibly could move on to the Stanley Cup final for the first time in a decade. The Senators were last in the final in 2007, when they lost to the Anaheim Ducks. The winner of this series will meet either the Ducks or the Nashville Predators (Nashville holding a 2-1 lead after three games.)
This unexpected and lopsided victory came largely courtesy of the Pittsburgh defence. The team’s star defender, Kris Letang, is lost for the season. The quick, smart Letang was also the quarterback of the Penguins once-vaunted power play. That role then fell to young Justin Schultz, who has played well but suffered a “lower-body” injury in Pittsburgh and did not dress for Game 3.
To run their struggling quarterback, the Penguins turned to Marc Streit, a 39-year-old Swiss who was once a force with the New York Islanders and other NHL teams but played only 19 games for the Penguins this year, counting one goal. In the playoffs he has been a healthy scratch and is largely unfamiliar with the Penguins power play.
Streit said he’d be running on adrenalin and came out with energy on the Penguins first chance with the man advantage. Earlier in the day he had talked about the team’s “high-end skill guys that can score” – Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel – and suggested it was “just a matter of getting them the pucks.”
Well, it turned out to be much more than that, particularly given the way that Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson has been playing. He was, once again, rock solid in the Senators net.
The most gregarious moment for the tattered Pittsburgh defenders came late in the second period when, following an excellent impersonation of the Keystone Kops running amok, the stumbling defence allowed Senators centre Kyle Turris to walk in, pull Murray out of the net and slip the puck in behind the goalie.
The Penguins finally beat Anderson on a power play late in the third, when Crosby managed to slip the puck into the Ottawa net after Kessel had ripped a shot on a nice set-up from Streit.
But by then it was much too late.
“You can’t win any games any more if you can’t score any goals,” Ottawa captain Erik Karlsson had said before the match.
This night, they found a way.Report Typo/Error