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Senators show signs of life after overtime marathon

Pascal Leclaire #33 of the Ottawa Senators reacts as a puck goes over his head against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Mellon Arena on April 22, 2010 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Like Monty Python's parrot, they only looked dead.

The Ottawa Senators, down three games to one against the defending Stanley Cup champion when the anthems were sung, pulled off the seemingly impossible last night when they beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3.

The goal came in the third overtime of a bizarre game when a Matt Carkner shot from the point was deflected in at 7:06, marking the longest overtime in Ottawa Senators history.

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The Senators have now forced a Game 6 in Ottawa Saturday, with the Penguins still able to close out the series with a single victory.

While Ottawa fans will be celebrating the winning goal, it nearly became another goal that hockey followers around the country would be talking about today as the Conspiracy Against Canada picked up a few more advocates.

It happened toward the end of the second period when Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby - who just happens to be Canadian, but is the anti-Canadian in this tale - completed one of his patented weasel-in-the-woodpile moves from the corner, got the puck on the Ottawa Senators' net and Chris Kunitz took two axe-blows at the puck before it slid over the crease.

It was immediately ruled a non-goal by the official closest to the action, as the net had apparently broken free of its moorings. Yet on further review, as they say, NHL headquarters in Toronto declared the goal valid.

Toronto also ruled against two other goals in this game, one a puck that Kunitz put in with a high stick, one an early marker in the first overtime that was determined to have been kicked in by Ottawa's Nick Foligno.

Tying the game 2-2 at such a critical moment caused the Senators to sag. Crosby, on his back, scored a go-ahead goal halfway through the third period that seemed to be sending his team on to victory.

Fortunately for Ottawa, however, Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-André Fleury missed a long Peter Regin shot midway through the third that sent the game into extra periods.

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While the Kunitz goal was certainly moot, it does nothing to repair a long-standing and ever-simmering sense in Canada that the NHL has no desire to see Canadian NHL teams - now Stanley Cup-less for 17 years - advance in the playoffs when cities with more familiar names and players with larger names, like Crosby, might bring the league the American attention it so desperately craves.

Vancouver Canucks fans are still calling "cheat" over a disallowed Vancouver goal in Game 3, when Daniel Sedin was denied a goal against the Los Angeles Kings on the debatable grounds that the puck was kicked into the net.

However, hockey is played on ice, not grassy knolls. The real discussion should be on how the Senators managed such a turnaround - amazing, giving how awful Ottawa had played in Game 4.

It's a simple enough game - cards, that is, not hockey - and yet all that Ottawa coach Cory Clouston could do in this potentially final playoff game was shuffle the deck he'd been dealt, lay down the numbers - and trust in a little luck turning Ottawa's way.

Clouston's biggest shift was to replace struggling Brian Elliott in net with Pascal Leclaire. But he also changed his lines around, breaking up the usual duo of Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza, both of whom had been flat, and played Alfredsson instead with Matt Cullen and Mike Fisher, while Spezza joined Foligno and Peter Regin, the team's best performer in the previous four matches.

The big surprise was Leclaire, who had only one win so far in 2010 but who saved some 60 shots last night.

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Brought in through a trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets last year, Leclaire had been expected to solve the Senators' long-standing problems in net. He came with a reputation for high place and a star goalie's salary - $3.8-million this year, $4.8-million next - but he never earned his keep.

Leclaire began well last night, stopping an Evgeni Malkin shot two minutes into the game and holding on until a Pittsburgh power play at the end of the period allowed defenceman Kris Letang to find a deflected puck and fire it high behind the Ottawa goaltender.

Ottawa was playing a game so different from Game 4 that it was like the difference between bridge and "Fish." They scored early on a power play when, for once, a Spezza no-look pass found an Ottawa stick and Erik Karlsson's shot from the right boards was tipped by Fisher in behind Fleury.

Ottawa went ahead 2-0 when Jarkko Ruutu steam-shovelled the puck through Fleury. Letang's marker brought it to 2-1.

Then came Kunitz's controversial goal.

Had it become the determining goal of the game, the cries of conspiracy would have been heard across three time zones, from Ottawa to Vancouver.

But the parrot survived.

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About the Author

Roy MacGregor was born in the small village of Whitney, Ont., in 1948. Before joining The Globe and Mail in 2002, he worked for the National Post, the Ottawa Citizen, Maclean's magazine (three separate times), the Toronto Star and The Canadian Magazine. More

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