The NHL playoffs suffered their first casualty last night, as the Anaheim Ducks completed their sweep of the Winnipeg Jets with a 5-2 win. Two more are in danger of joining them on the sideline tonight, as the Predators and Canucks both trail their series 3-1.
But last night also saw our first team to avoid elimination, as the Senators earned a 1-0 Game 4 win at home to prevent a sweep at the hands of the Canadiens. Craig Anderson made 28 saves for the shutout, and Mike Hoffman scored the only goal midway through the third period, beating a screened Carey Price from the top of the faceoff circle. From there, the Senators went into lockdown mode, smothering the Canadiens so effectively that Montreal could barely get Price out for an extra attacker at the end of regulation.
That capped off a choppy, uneven and, if we’re being honest, fairly dull game. How dull? The evening’s most memorable moment probably came when the Senators took a second-period faceoff violation penalty, which was notable only because nobody could seem to remember the rule ever actually being applied before. When you’re spending the second intermission debating faceoff violations, the odds are good that you’re not watching an all-time classic.1
But that won’t matter much to the Senators, who just needed to escape with a win after falling behind 3-0 in a tight series that had featured three one-goal games, two of which ended in overtime. They’d deserved a better fate, and it would have been hard to blame them if they’d let a sense of discouragement sink in, especially after an opening two periods in which Price looked unbeatable. But after the win, coach Dave Cameron explained that that wasn’t in the team’s nature.
“One of the keys of our team’s success is we say, ‘Stick with it,’” Cameron told Grantland. “Regardless of the score, regardless of who the other team is, regardless of who the other goalie is. That’s all we said after the second period, is, ‘Stick with it.’ And we did, and we got the result we wanted.”
So the Senators are still alive. But can they stay that way? After all, only four teams in NHL history have come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a series. With Game 5 in Montreal, the odds are still stacked heavily against the Senators. Chances are, last night’s win will be remembered simply for delaying the inevitable, if it’s even remembered at all.
But there are at least a few reasons to think that this Senators team might actually be able to pull it off. Not many, granted, but I can come up with five:
Craig Anderson: Andrew Hammond was the talk of the NHL over the final two months, replacing an injured Anderson and going on a history-making hot streak to lead the Senators’ late-season charge. All of that made for a great story, but it also made it easy to forget that Anderson is a pretty accomplished goalie in his own right. And while the Senators kept riding Hammond even after Anderson was healthy enough to play, a shaky first two games of the series prompted a switch back to the veteran.
Since then, Anderson has looked great. He shut the Habs out for 54 minutes in Game 3, before allowing Dale Weise to tie the game and later win it in overtime. Last night, he was able to finish the job. He didn’t have to stand on his head to do it, but he made all the saves when they were needed and is now sitting on a .974 save percentage through two games.
A hot goaltender is the great equalizer in the NHL playoffs, and right now the Senators have one. That gives them a shot.