Sunday, May 13, 2007

Sens take it in double OT

2007 Eastern Conference Final - Game 2
Senators 4, Sabres 3 (2OT)
Ottawa leads series 2-0

It took them a while — all the way to double overtime — but the Ottawa Senators coolly fought off a surge by the Buffalo Sabres to snap one of their futility records and take charge of the National Hockey League's Eastern Conference final.

After defenceman Joe Corvo scored at 4:58 of the second overtime period Saturday night for a 4-3 Senators win, they ended an 0-8 record in attempts to take a 2-0 lead in best-of-seven playoff series.

The sportswriter's lexicon would label this one "a crushing blow" for the Sabres.

With time ticking down and on the verge of being outclassed in their home rink for a second night in a row, Buffalo rallied just when it appeared Ottawa's shutdown tactics had indeed snuffed the best offence in hockey. Then Daniel Briere scored a gift of a goal with just more than five seconds remaining on the clock, setting up 25 minutes of overtime that saw the Senators outshoot the Sabres early, carry the balance of play and hold them to few scoring chances in sudden death.

Now down 2-0 in the series, Buffalo heads to Ottawa, where the Sabres were 1-3-0 during the regular season and outscored 19-13.

Talk about adversity.

Lindy Ruff said following Game 1 that jitters and inexperience were what held his team back to start the conference finals, but what appears to be weighing these Sabres down more than anything is the weight of expectations. Too often on Saturday night, a lone Buffalo player would try to make an individual play to enter the Ottawa zone only to be turned away, or put offside, and you could faintly hear what appeared to be boos from the HSBC Arena faithful.

For all the talk of the Sabres' amazing individual talent and offensive panache during the regular season, it's Ottawa's simple, sound defensive positioning on its own blue line that has tripped up what is the deepest group of forwards in the league.

But it's not just the Sabres forwards who have struggled — and especially not so when you take into consideration Buffalo's struggles against the Senators during the regular season. Netminder Ryan Miller, in particular, had poor showings against Ottawa and has been outplayed by Ray Emery so far in this series — although he was stellar in the overtime periods and Joe Corvo's game-winning knuckle-puck was hardly a gimme.

That said, Miller was on the ice for five games against the Senators this season, playing 249 minutes and posting a 1-4 record, 4.32 goals against average and .882 save percentage — his worst numbers against any of the 14 teams he faced more than once this season. Miller's allowed eight goals through two games in this series, and hasn't had nearly enough help from his blue line in doing so.

As for Ottawa's success, well, a lot of it has to be credited to a blue line that is getting terrific contributions from its second and third pairings, especially Wade Redden and Andrej Meszaros, who are both playing their best hockey of the season in the playoffs.

When Tom Preissing is your No. 6 defender, that's impressive depth, and it's outshining the Sabres apparently weary back end at the moment.

In all, the Sabres haven't quite looked like the world-beater they've been branded all year, and in a postseason that's been short on surprising results, the fact that this is increasingly looking like it'll be a short series certainly qualifies in that category. (And there's a chance we can stick a fork in this one as early as Monday night.)

Perhaps a trip to the finals — and a possible championship — is how it ends after Ottawa's long, weird ride since the franchise climbed from expansion awfulness, winning a division title in 1998-99 and promptly bowing out in the first of three consecutive first-round defeats.

Eight years later, and with a good deal of "adversity" — there's that lexicon again — thrown in, only Daniel Alfredsson, Chris Phillips and Wade Redden remain from the team that took those first baby steps toward greatness. Ottawa hasn't dipped to less than 94 points since, and the team's tenth consecutive playoff appearance this season has been their most promising yet.

Now that title that so many puck pundits gave up predicting after last season's meek exit is just six wins away.

For all of their stumbles in playoffs past, this group of Senators has thus far been unflappable — enough so that the team's fickle fanbase is finally warming up to the idea that this might finally be their year.

Because if this is just one more brick in Heartbreak Road, it sure doesn't look like it.

Unless you're in Buffalo.

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9 Comments:

At 12:59 AM, May 13, 2007, Blogger J.R. Hippe said...

The series isn't over, lots of work to be done, etc., but from a Senators' perspective I'd worry about winning too quickly and having a long layoff before the SCF. Maybe Buffalo just needs some road hatred to get going?

 
At 1:24 AM, May 13, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm starting to see Ottawa do things they've never done before, and it makes me happy and scared all at the same time.

-Burninator

 
At 3:21 AM, May 13, 2007, Blogger J. Michael Neal said...

The following does not apply to James. I liked this post. It's other people I've been listening to this evening who have gone on at length about what two whole games have exposed about the Sabres.

It's two games, morons. You don't know anything you didn't know four days ago, except that Buffalo should be making tee times for ...

Must ... not ... get ... cranky ... about ... people ... drawing ... conclusions ... from ... small ... sample ... sizes.

These are the same people who, 24 hours ago, were saying that the Ducks MUST GET MORE TRAFFIC IN FRONT OF HASEK. (Emphasis in original.) They got plenty of traffic in front of him last night. For a variety of reasons, some of which are related to luck and some related to Hasek playing brilliantly, they just didn't get the puck past him when they had traffic. The Wings, on the other hand, partially due to luck and partially to the fact that the reason Homer is on the team is because the puck bounces off of him in strange ways, got two to go in. It happens.

I've come to the conclusion that the TV talking heads aren't actually people; they're large torso dolls with that string in the back that you pull to get one of a short list of sentences programmed in. Flip the switch to "Loss," and they choose from one list. Set it to "Win," in they select from another.

 
At 4:14 AM, May 13, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Ducks outplayed the Wings and look scarily good. Whether they can get the lucky bounces to get those "Wins" remains to be seen.

 
At 6:46 AM, May 13, 2007, Blogger J. Michael Neal said...

I very rarely say that a losing team outplayed a winning team in hockey. Keep in mind that the goalie is a part of the team, and Hasek was really, really good on Friday. Now, this may have been one of those games. However, Francois Beauchemin not being able to keep the puck out of his own net is also a part of how the Ducks played.

In the end, I think that the Ducks outplayed the Wings, but not by very much. Can Hasek be that good consistently? I don't know; I think that there is a real possibility that the Ducks are more capable of continuing to do what they did well than the Wings are. Then again, the Wings didn't look very good in Game 1 against San Jose, either. I still think that the teams are pretty evenly matched, and being able to steal a game like the Wings did could be the difference.

 
At 8:43 AM, May 13, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very rarely do the Wings get outshot - because they usually do the outshooting. The Wings played a team that did everything against them that they do against all others. The Ducks still need the lucky bounces.

 
At 12:04 PM, May 13, 2007, Blogger Doogie said...

Very rarely do the Wings get outshot - because they usually do the outshooting.

This made me laugh for some reason.

 
At 12:22 PM, May 13, 2007, Anonymous Baroque said...

This made me laugh for some reason.

Because it is a perfect example of a tautology. ;)

 
At 6:48 PM, May 13, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wasn't Tautology an early Pearl Jam album?

 

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