Kravchuk scored last meaningful goal

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:09 AM ET

Igor Kravchuk? Igor-freakin'-Kravchuk. At this point, the former Senators defenceman still holds the honour of scoring the most significant feel-good goal in Senators' playoff history.

And that was eight years ago.

You would have thought that by this point, somebody, especially with players like Daniel Alfredsson, Marian Hossa, Martin Havlat, Dany Heatley, Wade Redden and other worthy stars having worn the Senators sweater, somebody would have scored a series-clinching goal of more significance by now.

Defenceman Chris Phillips scored the winner in overtime of Game 6 in 2003 to force a seventh game in the Eastern Conference final against the New Jersey Devils. That was a huge, emotional goal, but we all remember how that series turned out, eh?

So, Kravchuk's goal on May 2, 1998 is the one that really let Senators fans party for the first and last time. It was the insurance goal at what was then the Corel Centre, sealing Ottawa's elimination of the top-ranked New Jersey Devils in the first round of the 1998 playoffs (a lot of fans remember Kravchuk's goal, but for trivia's sake, it was defenceman Janne Laukkanen that scored the winner in the 3-1 win).

That marked the Senators' first series victory in the playoffs in their second trip to the playoffs. They had lost in seven games to the Buffalo Sabres the year before, so it certainly seemed like the club was going in the right direction.

A win over the top-ranked Devils and goaltender Martin Brodeur was enough back then. It didn't matter what happened after that, really.

The Senators overachieved that year.

Since then?

The Senators have become one of the best regular-season teams in the NHL, but it has been one spring after another filled with anticipation and high hopes ultimately ending with another late-night venting of spleens with John "J.R." Rodenburg on the Team 1200.

It is somewhat indicative of Ottawa's playoff experience that J.R. now has four sponsors who eagerly signed up for this year's post-mortem program. I think this year's was the fourth annual.

It has become an Ottawa rite of spring along with potholes.

So, what went wrong this time?

The short answer is Igor Kravchuk still has the "big" goal and putting the puck in the net remains the post-season curse of the Senators.

It is all the more galling after the outstanding offensive season the Senators had. For much of the season, they were the poster boys for the "new" NHL. Creative, fast and capable of scoring the highlight-reel goals.

POOR IN ONE-GOAL GAMES

But, as goaltender Dominik Hasek pointed out about halfway through the season, this team didn't know how to win close games. The Senators were 10-15 in one-goal games during the regular season and 2-5 in the playoffs for a total of 12-17 in one-goal games this season.

In goals decided by two or more goals this season, they were 45-15 (including 3-0 in the playoffs).

Even in this new NHL, the reality of the playoffs is goals have to be earned the old-fashioned way and the Senators just didn't seem to get that.

In the last four games of the series vs. Buffalo, the Senators scored just three even-strength goals, two of them by defenceman Brian Pothier and the other by Phillips.

Just think about this: The forwards didn't score a 5-on-5 goal after the first game of the series.

The only forwards to score after Game 1 were Jason Spezza with a pair and Alfredsson, all on the power play.

Former coach Jacques Martin was the lightning rod the last time the Senators lost and he paid for it with his job.

MANY TARGETS FOR BLAME

There are a lot more targets springing up now.

GM John Muckler didn't have anything turn out right this year, starting with his gamble that a 41-year-old goaltender with a history of groin trouble could dodge that bullet for an entire season.

Even after Hasek was hurt, Muckler refused to budge at the trade deadline, leaving the door open for the Senators to have to bank on rookie Ray Emery.

Not that Emery was to blame for the loss. Could he have come up with more big saves? Sure. What goaltender couldn't?

But wouldn't his life had been easier if the Senators had scored the first goal more than once in the series against the Sabres? The one game they did, they won.

Because of the Senators' difficulty scoring goals, Emery was left in the position so many Ottawa goalies have been in before him, feeling like they couldn't afford to make a single mistake.

At some point, somebody is going to knock Igor Kravchuk off his perch.

Until then, be ready, J.R.


Videos

Photos