Friday, April 23, 2010

Sens vs. Pens- Game 5, Round 1

Ottawa 4, Pittsburgh 3

I have never ever before experienced exhaustion, panic attacks and momentary flashes of blindness all at the same time. Last night's game gave it all and it gave it all in triple overtime.

I don't even know where to begin with this one. It all seems so unbelievable. But something felt so incredibly different from the moment that the puck dropped on the ice for the first face off. If I was one of those vain, all-powerful, self-important people, I would believe that all of the things that I've been yelling for the past few games at the TV, to colleagues and here on this blog, have actually been heard and put into effect. But I know better than that. I know that Cory's likely been yelling the very same things to everyone and everything around him and it finally stuck.

Who was this team? This is the Ottawa Senators team that I've been cheering all year long. And who was that happy-looking, chatty, tall forward? That was the Spezza that I miss. And who was that between the pipes? The ill-fated Pascal Leclaire who's been given a hard time all year long for freak accidents and injuries that have relegated him to a back up position when he was promised a number one spot in the nation's capital. But this is the Leclaire that we received in the Vermette trade to the Columbus Blue Jackets which was supposed to take us to the promised land of the post season. And did he ever deliver.

It's as I've said before. When things go bad with the Senators, it ALL goes bad. It's that day from hell that you experience with one bad thing after another, just hoping that it ends. But when things go well with the Senators, it ALL goes well. Think back to the 13 game winning streak that we experienced which put all of Ottawa on a collective high during some of the hardest winter months. We got the good calls, the good bounces, the good positioning in front of the net, the good defensive plays when it was really necessary. Last night was one of those nights.

I'm not sure what was the 'it' factor that changed this game for the Sens or if this was a combination of factors. The goalie change obviously had a psychological effect on both teams, a positive change for Ottawa and a surprise for Pittsburgh. It also made for one of those French goalie showdowns which wouldn't normally be considered a factor, other than the fact that some of the best goalies of all time are Frenchmen or have trained in Quebec. It is amusing to imagine the two yelling at each other in French from across the ice with references to Montreal and Rimouski.

Then there's history. On the one hand, history is against Ottawa, as most teams don't rally back from a 3 game hole in the playoffs. On the other hand, history is for Ottawa because Pittsburgh traditionally has a bad habit of losing that last crucial game when they're up by 3. There's no real explanation for the inability to seal the deal with this particular game for the Pens; the reason used in the past has been inexperience, but that hardly holds water now, as they are the defending Cup champs. Perhaps it's the weight of expectations? The pressure of trying to win it at home? The pressure that comes with being the favourite?

In that same vein, maybe Ottawa played so well because they relish the role of underdogs. Everyone counted them out with this match up and even I watched it with interest, but not with faith. They really turned it on when their backs were up against the wall and they were entering hostile territory down at Mellon Arena. Was that the thing that turned them around?

In terms of the improved play, they did what they were supposed to do. They made a better effort at getting in front of Fleury, interfering with him and sitting in the paint. I think Mike Fisher and his backside were both listening when it was said that they have a destabilizing effect on the goalie; it worked. They also played a much more disciplined game, taking fewer penalties and keeping calm. It was a tough game, but nothing like the Friday night fight fest that was previously had. They also got better in the neutral zone and some players (19) laid off the bad turnovers.

Sidney was his usual great self, and the fact that they managed to contain him as much as they did, particularly when the overtime periods began, was exemplary. Other than his calm, cool collectedness, there was a bit of unravel from the rest of the team. They didn't seem as disciplined in their end as they have been in the past few games, and there were some wild passes and missed checks which were highly uncharacteristic. Their game didn't seem as physical or as inspired.

Can Ottawa bring this momentum home with them? Game 6 is tomorrow night at Scotiabank Place and it was far from a sure thing. I think Brian Murray was watching with one hand on the phone, just waiting for the moment to order more playoff towels for Scotiabank Place in time. Will the ultimate French goalie showdown of Leclaire vs. Fleury promise to be another overtime nail biting thriller?

Last night came about as close to a miracle on ice as I've ever seen. I hope that I get the chance to witness one in person, way high up in the rafters where I will be sitting, screaming like crazy and yelling random advice to all the players and high fiving strangers. I hope that I have playoff seats that I won't really have to use because I'll be so busy on my feet, cheering like a true fan. I can't say what the game will actually be like or if the team that comes out to play on the ice will be the glorious, fighting, streaking team of last night, but I can definitely predict a lot of excitement and nervous moments and mass booing of the Penguins.

And just in case there's more overtime craziness, I'm bringing extra beer money.

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