To any spectator of this event who is not an active supporter of the Leafs, which lets be honest is fans of any other Canadian franchise and at least half of the fans of any U.S. franchise, this was an epic game to experience. I am going to skip ahead to when the game really start to heat up. With less than 1 minute to play in the 2nd period the Toronto Maple Leafs Auston Matthews buried a goal top cheddar in a 5 on 3 powerplay to make the score 5 – 1 in favor of Toronto. In this moment, with the Leafs going up by 4 goals with 59 seconds left in the 2nd and 1 minute and 33 seconds still remaining on a 5 on 4 Leafs powerplay, it was pretty tough to be optimistic this game would even be worth watching in the 3rd.
At this point, in the remaining 59 seconds of the 2nd period, it was hard for any supporter of Ottawa in this matchup to hope for anything other than some nice learning experience for their young talent. Then something happened. At 9 seconds left in the period Nick Paul picked up a rebound from teammate Austin Watson’s shot and buried it behind Anderson. There is a case to be made that this was a turning point. Personally I think it was a glimmer of hope in what was still a very very dark tunnel. It is always good to make the game closer, but given that Toronto would enter the 3rd period on the powerplay for 26 seconds, it is hard to say this is the moment where anything had changed. The signs still pointed towards a loss. I know my first thought was, “That was nice. I doubt it will make a difference, but nice “.
To start the 3rd, the Leafs had their super talented powerplay unit start on the ice. After Chris Tierney made a nice play to get the puck out the zone he showed stellar awareness to push the puck forward to Artem Zub as he was freed from the box. Zub’s breakaway and nifty deke to get the puck behind Anderson was the moment the atmosphere started to shift. Now, with the game at 5 – 3 and 19:19 left to play, this game had hope. I remember thinking “Okay. Okay Zub. Zub, okay. I see you. What if? Can they? Will they? Nah, I doubt it. buuuuut it’s possible. And now, I am significantly more invested.”. Just over a minute later, the Leafs take a penalty. Not just any penalty a 4 minute double minor high stick. In this moment, any reasonable hockey fan is now watching this game with half their a** hanging over their respective seats. Ottawa’s powerplay has not exactly lit up the scoreboard, but this is the first moment you truly considered, “Holy S**t, is this actually possible? This is the moment. One goal in 4 minutes of man advantage and my goodness, this might really happen.” Sure enough, more than 3 minutes elapse. To this point in the power play spectators could actually make a potentially strong case to say the Leafs had better scoring chances a man down the Sens with a man advantage. The hope created by Zub’s goal and the sight of a 4 minute powerplay, felt like it was fading. The second powerplay unit gets back on the ice with less than 15 seconds left of 5 on 4. My exact thought was “Opportunity wasted.”. My how incorrect that statement proved to be. Thomas Chabot starts the breakout with less than 10 seconds on the powerplay. He moves it Connor Brown, who skates up and dishes to Colin White who brings it over the blue line into the Leafs end. White faced immediate pressure and it certainly appeared that soon the puck was going to start heading towards the Sen’s D – Zone. Chabot, being the stud that he is, recognized White under pressure. He swooped in, scoped the puck, maneuvered his way across the ice, and spun around dishing it to Connor Brown, near the corner on the opposite side of the ice. The now pressure-less White skated through slot and took the pass from Brown. Anderson did not have a chance when White slid it back to Brown and hammer the the puck home right after the powerplay expired.
The energy in the building was different. Hope filled the air on one side. On the other it could have been frustration or just straight up disbelief. Maybe a combination of the two. Regardless this was a different game and all the momentum was pointing Ottawa. This was the first time it started to feel real. The first point in the game spectators thought, “This might happen. They might do it”. I personally thought, “Whaaaaaat the F***! It’s going to be that kind of game, huh? This is going to be that bananas type of game that people remember forever, isn’t it? Now, I am more than interested. I am actively engaged and emotionally invested in the outcome. Even if they only tie it 5 – 5 and lose in OT this will have been one of the most epic comebacks I have ever had the luck to see!”. I would imagine most neutral viewers gaze shifted from vague intrigue to outright support and hope. Even the mentality of fans that actively support the Sens had to of changed after this goal. Their team pulled them in, and made them believe they could do it. The focus went from, “Maybe our young players will look good in the third” to “Get it baby! Get it! BEAT DA LEAFS! BEAT DA LEAFS! BEAT DA F***IN LEEEEAFS!”.
As time got closer to expiration, the hope in the possible comeback did not. Both teams generated their fair share of opportunities that can only be described as an emotional rollercoaster. If the Leafs scored next it was all but over. And given the level of hope that was now flowing through my body it would have been a real debby downer to say the least. Time progressively comes off the clock until the Leafs ice the puck with a 2:24 left on the clock. Props to D.J. Smith for not only recognizing this was the moment to pull the tendy and go for it, but also throwing the young studs out there to be control the teams fate. Stepan wins the draw, the puck wraps around the boards to Josh Norris. Josh Norris slides it Chabot. Chabot throws it to Stützle a tad bit off the mark. Stützle corrals it then backhands it back to Chabot while under pressure. Chabot fires it Norris again. Norris takes a tic, slides down, then rips one on net. Brady Tkachuk does his net front Tkachuk dominance thing. Did Tkachuk’s presence impact Anderson’s ability to track the puck? Almost definitely. Dadonov stepped in and shhhmacks it out of the air and into the net. Homerun to say the least. At this point the game is full blown bananas. Watching the Sens throw out the old bulls and try to hang on for dear life to get OT was a roller coaster, but ultimately they made it. And now every person tuned in is going, “Oh my God. Oh my God . Oh My God. SHHHH don’t jinx it.”
More credit to D.J. Smith for letting Jimmy Stü, Josh Norris, and Chabot start OT. While they did not score it was pretty epic watching Stützle skate laps around Marner, Matthews, and Rielly and then almost score. Outside of that it went pretty much exactly how you would expect. The Leafs almost score a ton. Marner swivels in and gets stuffed off an unreal save by Högberg who hit the ice and slid to his side, but Högber was now significantly out of the net. Marner dished it up top to Rielly in the middle. “Well that’s game” must have been thought by at least 97% of all viewers. Probably higher. Obviously it was not. Why? The Dad man himself steps out in front to save a shot on an essentially empty net. Nick Paul scoops the blocked puck and draws Morgan Rielly to the far side of the ice then dished it back to Chabot. Chabot slid it to the Senator’s resident Dad who took off flying for uncontested breakaway. He sniped and the rest is history. Literally. Of the 240 games the Senators franchise had trailed by 4 goals their exact record was 0 – 237 – 3. They are now 1 – 237 – 3.
The real purpose of this article besides the fun recap is not just to emphasize how insane, epic, and even historic this game was. It is to analyze the kind of impact this game can have on the future. There is a chance this type of win that can have a lasting impression on a team. Currently they are an underperforming team who’s best players, except Dadonov, are under 26 years old. With so much of their young stars finding their way in this league, can this game not speak volumes toward how much better they can be right now? Does this game in any way tell Tim Stützle, Drake Batherson, and Josh Norris, “Look what we can do. We are capable. We can beat anyone. Even the ultra stacked Leafs”. For young players to learn to beat a team like the Leafs is a big deal. For these kids to learn that the game is never over and they can always make a difference, might be a bigger deal. For them to learn that they can compete with, and even beat, the NHL’s elite might be biggest deal. I am not saying the Senators all the sudden win the cup. I am saying I am incredibly interested to see how the next game goes. It is either a new team with a new found confidence, or a fluke and this epic game meant nothing.
- CFTP – B. Driscoll
- PhotoCred: Nathan Denette/THE CANADIAN PRESS
- Twitter: @ChirpingPinePod