Moving with a slight limp, a tuckered-out Daniel Alfredsson approached the waiting media in the visitors’ dressing room, noticed that the clock on the wall had just struck midnight, smiled and nodded.
“Good morning,” he said.
Wrong. For the Senators, it was much more than a good morning.
It was the greatest morning in franchise history.
The morning after Steve Duchesne scored in the dying moments at the Corel Centre to put Ottawa into the playoffs for the first time was a good morning. That one stands as 1B under the heading Monumental Senators Victories.
The morning after Alfredsson scored in overtime at HSBC Arena to send Ottawa to its first-ever Stanley Cup final was a better morning. That’s 1A.
The morning after Chris Phillips scored in overtime at Continental Airlines Arena to drag the Devils back to the nation’s capital for a Game 7 was a great morning. A gutsy effort, it’s 1B on the page of Character Wins.
But the morning after a 4-3 triple-overtime victory, a back-to-the-wall game for the Senators at Mellon Arena that looked like it might last so long it would need to be finished across the street at the Console Energy Center — the construction of which is to be completed this summer —was the greatest for a number of reasons.
First and foremost, it showed that this Senators team has something others before it have lacked: Balls.
Just the fifth win in 16 elimination games, none of the others were against the defending champions. None of the others were against a team that had anyone of Sidney Crosby’s calibre. None were completed with a lineup that was missing one of its Top 4 defenceman and two of its Top 6 forwards.
Because of injuries, these Senators have nowhere near the overall talent Pittsburgh does. Apparently, what they do possess is a strong beating heart and the kind of grit and determination that makes a fan base extremely proud.
That counts for a lot.
Most impressive about this game was the way the Senators absolutely refused to go down. You had to be inside the building to appreciate the power surges the Penguins sent at them throughout the night. None of the witnesses thought they’d have a prayer of survival when Crosby completed the Penguins comeback from a 2-0 deficit to give them their first lead with just under 11 minutes left in the third.
Yup, Ottawa was done — for all of 1:23, until your kid’s new favourite player, Peter Regin, tied it up with another one of his hard blasts that have started to turn heads around the league.
Regin sets stage
Regin’s goal set the stage for Matt Carkner and Pascal Leclaire to become true yet unlikely heroes before the clock hands hit 12. Talk about Cinderfella stories. Which is the better, the goalie who returned from exile to stop 56 shots in his first playoff game, or the locally grown, tough-guy defenceman nobody on the outside expected to be here, never mind play 29 minutes with the team on the brink?
“It’s the biggest goal of my career,” a grinning Carkner said. Really Matt? The one in triple OT that allowed your squad to live another day and its owner to collect another million in gate revenues? Bigger than the other two you’ve scored in the NHL?
Yeah, you’re probably right.
It’s still a pipe dream to think the Senators can win this thing, but to give themselves a Game 7 shot they now have to stomp their own demons at Scotiabank Place.
Absurdly, they have lost their last five playoff games at home, dating back to 2007. They’ve also come out on the short end in their last four post-season tilts against the Penguins in Ottawa.
To have any chance of stopping the trend, GM Bryan Murray says the Senators will have to play another game “the right way,” which in this case, he says, is to focus on the system rather than putting Penguins through the boards.
“We have played better on the road in this series than we have at home,” said a weary Alfredsson. “I think we’ve learned from that as well. That’s what you’ve got to bring on ... Saturday? We’ve just got to play smarter. We can’t open up. We’ve got to stay more patient than we have at home.
“If we do that, we’ll be fine.”
And maybe, just maybe, there will be another great morning on the horizon.