MONTREAL - In all the time Craig Anderson spent getting his blocker hand back in shape, it looks like he neglected the one that works his trapper.
Playing his first game in one month and one day, Anderson was rustier than anyone would have expected when he allowed a harmless Erik Cole wrist shot from the left-wing circle to squeeze through his catching hand just 29 seconds after the opening faceoff.
From there, the Senators were well on their way to what might be remembered as a 5-1 loss to the Habs at the Bell Centre that crushed their hopes of making the playoffs.
Combined with a Sabres win over the Rangers and the Capitals’ overtime loss in Winnipeg, the seventh-place Senators’ hold on a Top 8 spot is just two points strong.
“I’d say the rest of the stretch now, they’re all pretty much playoff games,” said Jason Spezza. “Teams are chasing us and getting wins, and we’re not right now. So they become must-wins.”
Anderson gave up a second bad goal to Cole on the fourth shot he faced at 4:56 of the first period. That was enough for coach Paul MacLean to replace him with Ben Bishop, the victim of Cole’s hat-trick goal at 5:41.
MacLean, who said he hadn’t made a decision on which goalie will start vs. the Penguins Saturday at home, offered Anderson some protection when he said Cole’s first goal was on a good shot and that his goalie didn’t get much help on the second.
Anderson, who said he had no issues with the injured hand, wouldn’t blame rustiness for his start.
“It was just a lucky bounce,” he said of Cole’s initial goal.
“It happened to (Nashville’s) Pekka Rinne the other night. It hit his glove and bounced right over. Same thing. Kind of came through a little bit of a screen, and I didn’t pick it up that clean. Obviously, 99 out of 100 times that’s in my glove.”
Anderson said it was “great” to get back in the game.
“Just to get a good feel and build something on,” he said. “Obviously when you only play five minutes, it’s tough to start to build.”
Bishop gave up another goal in the first, to Petteri Nokelainen, then gave the reins back to Anderson for the second.
Anderson looked better this time, making a couple of decent stops but giving up a glove-side goal to Lars Eller.
When the dust had settled, Anderson had allowed three goals on 23 shots, while Bishop surrendered two goals on nine shots.
Spezza scored the Senators’ lone goal with 12.3 seconds left in the first period, giving the visitors faint hope. Ottawa came out hard in the second but sagged when it was ruled Daniel Alfredsson deflected a shot between Carey Price legs using a high stick.
The Senators finished the season 2-3-1 vs. the Habs.
“Glad we don’t have to play them again,” said MacLean. “They certainly bring the worst out in us.
“We weren’t as prepared to play the game, play with enough discipline ... It falls on the coaching staff to make sure the players are prepared to play.”
The game took almost three hours to complete as the teams engaged in shoving matches, at least, after almost every whistle.
The Senators’ frustration was particularly evident. Chris Neil, Zenon Konopka, Nick Foligno, Jared Cowen and Zack Smith had a combined 86 penalty minutes. Neil led the way with 33.
The Senators managed to play the last-place Habs to a 1-1 draw over the final 51 minutes. But on the whole, they were brutal in the biggest game they’ve had to date — and they know it.
“We’re not going to find any confidence or find any solace out of this game,” said Spezza. “We’ve just got to move on, put it behind us and admit that we played bad.”