Thursday, April 15, 2010

Sens vs. Pens- Game 1, Round 1

Ottawa 5, Pittsburgh 4.

It was the result that I dared not hope for. A win for Ottawa against the Stanley Cup defending mighty Pittsburgh Penguins!

Of course, this has happened in the past before. There have been many occasions where these two teams have clashed in the playoffs, with each one getting the upper hand on different years. It's become such a classic match up that one can't help but notice the searing identity crisis which occurs inevitably from having such similar sounding monikers. Go Pens and Go Sens sounds remarkably the same and what really nailed it the other night was the fact that it was the infamous white T-shirt night in Pittsburgh, but the team was wearing black and the visiting Sens were wearing white. Weird. But I have to say, I was very grateful that Pittsburgh decided against wearing their powder puff blue uniforms for a playoffs game. They're not exactly the picture of intimidation and raw power in those things.

It was a very exciting night and there was a clear case of the jitters from both sides of the ice. Marc Andre Fleury didn't fall this time as he came jumping out of the gate, thankfully, but he may as well have. Sorry to say, with all due respect to a guy who already has a Stanley Cup ring and an Olympic Gold Medal, but all bets were on him that he would be the experienced, calm and cool playoff veteran goalie in this match up against the 25 year old Brian Elliot, appearing in his first ever playoff game. But those bets lost.

The sports shows all had fun poking fun at Elliot who joked with the press that he had played game 7 before in college road hockey. Last night's game was about as far as you could get from college road hockey, but he played like a pro once he got those first nerves out. But the nerves just kept on going for Fleury, who actually misplayed the puck completely at one point, wandering off behind the net to pick up the puck when a leaping Chris Kelly ran it in. That foot race with Kelly, which he lost, should never even have happened if he had stayed in place. Gross miscalculation there.

I actually do feel for Fleury. A couple of those goals were just bullets, like the Regin and Neil ones. They happened so fast that if you stopped to put your beer down, you would miss it and curse. And Karlsson's goal was successful in part because of Mike Fisher's blocking of Fleury with his, uhm, backside. That has got to be distracting. That would have been the ultimate insult to injury too. A lot of players are accused of 'sitting' on the goalie, but very few of them come close to actually doing it. Wonder if that counts as an assist? Someone should call Bettman and ask.

For the Pens, you have to give it to Malkin. He was their best player out there and it's not surprising that he was the hardest one to contain. Crosby picked up some assists because he's all over the ice and his little backhand passes are fantastic. The Pittsburgh team is full of weapons and the Sens are smart enough to know that you don't shut down this team, you contain them as much as you can. That's Clouston's strategy and you know it's working.

It's great to see that the Sens aren't a one-line team anymore and that their secondary guys have really stepped it up. The heroes of this game weren't the usual suspects, Alfie, Spezza, Kovalev (out for the season) or our one-time starter goalie Pascal Leclaire. The heroics came in from Kelly, Neil, Ruutu, Regin and Karlsson, the guys who have been carrying the team through an injury-riddled season. And our back up guy Elliot, who has played his way to the number one spot.

I have to say that another 71 that deserves recognition is Nick Foligno. Despite not getting on the board last night, he is a hard worker, getting into the corners, hitting hard, fighting for the puck. He fights like it matters and it's great to see that. Wish that Spezza would show a bit of the same spark.

How will this team maintain this momentum into the next game? Keep it simple, play a tight game, don't give them time and space and stay out of the box. It sounds so easy, but like most things in life, the easiest things are the hardest ones to do.

This team has confidence and it has talent. I hope that they can keep it going.

For the Pens, I don't think they have to change up their game at all. They kept the game going right up until the end. What seemed to go wrong for them is that it appears that they underestimated their opponent for one, and that they panicked near the end, for another. Their play in the third was incredibly hurried and sloppy, and with the exception of Crosby, who likes to play keep away with the puck, they didn't make Ottawa play their game. Another potential fatal flaw? The mouth. It seems like there's a lot of talking going on when the game's not going their way.

As much admiration as I have for Crosby, I have to say that he should tear a page out of Alfie's book and lead by example by being the strong, silent type. I'm pretty sure that he said more words at his 1000th game commemoration ceremony than he's actually said in 1000 games. That's a guy we can all get behind.

Go Sens Go!

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