"Maybe he has been our most important player."
Kyle Turris, a quiet, humble young man, certainly wasn't talking about himself, though it was Turris who on Saturday afternoon, 8:28 into overtime in Game 5 of the Ottawa Senators-New York Rangers series, came over the Rangers blueline and, on his second try, got away a shot that somehow eluded Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
The 5-4 overtime win put Ottawa ahead three games-to-two in the Eastern Conference semi-final, with Game 6 scheduled for Tuesday night in New York. If a Game 7 is required, it will be back in Ottawa on Thursday.
Turris was not talking about himself, nor about Marc Stone, who broke out of his mini-slump to score the first goal in the Senators' dramatic victory – twice coming from behind – nor was he speaking of captain Erik Karlsson, who, playing hurt, still managed three assists. Nor even about Derick Brassard, the former Ranger who jumped on the ice as an extra Ottawa attacker in the game's dying moments and scored the oddball goal that forced the overtime period.
No, Turris's "most important player" was a 37-year-old veteran who had been a healthy scratch for most of the previous two months, a player who scored no goals on Saturday, tallied no assists, didn't even get a shot on net and spent five times as much time in the penalty box as the minuscule 2:26 he was on the ice.
That would be Chris Neil of Flesherton, Ont., a sixth-round draft pick back in 1998 who has played all his 15 NHL seasons with the Ottawa Senators, this one widely believed to be his last – at least until Saturday afternoon at Canadian Tire Centre.
Ottawa head coach Guy Boucher made it pretty clear on Sunday that Neil will dress again on Tuesday.
"We obviously can't look like we did for the first two games in New York," Boucher said. "Otherwise, we don't have a chance."
During two successive losses at Madison Square Garden last week, the Senators were outplayed, outworked and outmuscled – particularly by a gifted agitator called Tanner Glass.
Word went out among the Ottawa players late Friday evening that Neil would be in the lineup. Brassard said when he looked at his e-mail message he got "excited." As Brassard put it, "I've never known a guy so passionate about the game."
At the 3:13 mark of the second period, Neil went to work. The New York Rangers were up 2-1 and Glass was again offering face rubs and cheap shots at every opportunity, particularly on the much smaller Turris. Neil had had enough. He went after Glass in what turned out to be little more than a tussle. Yet it clearly had an effect on his teammates.
"It was clear we needed to answer back some of the liberties they were taking with our skill guys," Boucher said Sunday. "I thought they felt protected."
Glass was given two minutes for interference, Neil two minutes for roughing and a 10-minute misconduct. He was still serving the misconduct when his teammates began their comeback. When he came out of the box, the Senators were ahead 3-2; the Ottawa players saluted him with stick taps as he made his way back across the ice.
"That's the best penalty I've seen anybody take in a long time," Turris said. "We'll take that any day. It gives us such a boost. It gets the crowd going."
The Senators will not, of course, have the crowd with them on Tuesday. As for the Rangers, they seemed grateful to be returning to the Garden.
"We've always been a real good home team in front of our fans," New York head coach Alain Vigneault said in a Sunday conference call. "We haven't won in Ottawa yet."
That would be required if the Rangers are to win the series. They need to win the next two, while Ottawa only needs one victory.
Saturday's most dramatic moment in an exciting game came with time winding down and the Senators down by a goal. Boucher pulled goaltender Craig Anderson and sent Brassard over the boards. He raced toward the New York net just as Karlsson sent a long, cross-ice pass to Clarke MacArthur, who took a shot that rebounded high in the air. As the puck fell back toward the ice, Brassard swatted it out of the air, the puck hitting two Rangers before slipping in behind Lundqvist.
The Rangers scored first only 4:07 into the match when, on a three-on-two rush, Brendan Smith took the puck to the outside and then hit the trailer, Jesper Fast, who had the empty side of the Ottawa net awaiting him.
Barely a minute later they scored again, when Nick Holden took a wrist shot that ticked a defenceman's stick and floated past Anderson's glove.
It seemed a rout might be on, but Ottawa was able to get one back a couple of minutes later when Stone managed to poke a puck into the Rangers' net on a goalmouth scramble.
"I haven't played the offensive game that I have liked," Stone said. "But I'm starting to learn that scoring in the playoffs is tough. If you're not getting to those nitty-gritty areas, you're not going to score. If you look at that goal, it barely crossed the line. But the work I had to put in to get it is intense.
"I think everyone is starting to learn that. All our goals are just about getting pucks through, banging it in."
With Neil watching from the penalty box, the Senators tied the game at two goals apiece early in the second period when Karlsson shot up the ice with the puck, crossed the Rangers' blueline and left a drop pass for MacArthur. MacArthur send a perfect pass across to Mike Hoffman, who one-timed a slap shot past Lundqvist.
Almost immediately, the Senators moved in front when Smith carried the puck in the Rangers' zone and sent a bad pass toward Tom Pyatt, who had to turn backward as he hit the slot area in front of the net. The puck glanced off Pyatt's stick and into the New York net.
It was now the Rangers' turn to play catch-up. Late in the middle period, Michael Grabner snared a puck in front of the Senators net, spun to his forehand and sent the puck through to Ryan McDonagh, who simply tucked the puck in behind Anderson.
In the third period, Anderson made what appeared to be a sensational, diving glove save on young forward Jimmy Vessey. The officials ruled no goal on the ice but video replay showed that the puck had indeed crossed the goal line.
"I knew when they didn't show it on the Jumbotron that it was in," Anderson said.
It was then Brassard's time to shine, as the former Ranger tied the match at the 18:34 mark of regulation, forcing the overtime.
The Rangers believed they had won the game but a seeming goal by Grabner was disallowed when it was ruled he had hit the puck out of the air with a high stick.
That left Turris to win the game with his shot.
And left the players still praising Neil.
"He has played over 1,000 games and playoff games, playing the toughest role in hockey," Stone said. "He is so respected by his teammates. It just added a spark.
"He just makes everyone feel a little more comfortable on the ice."