Game Summary - Game 79: Senators @ Islanders - Elimination Night
by Chet Sellers
Does anyone remember laughter? Does anyone remember the giddy optimism of September? The gallows humour of late Fall, secretly expecting a team giving up 50 shots a night would still turn things around? The newfound hope of January? The respite of the Olympics? The March from Hell? As the days get longer and the snowbanks finally recede into mud and gravel and litter, does anyone else have the conditioned response that it must be playoff time?
It isn't. The Columbus Blue Jackets can eliminate the Ottawa Senators from playoff contention with a point tonight . . . or tomorrow, or Friday, or Saturday. How the Senators perform in their last four games almost seems beside the point. Death is coming. Better to be quick and painless now than drawn out for yet another night. Let the axe fall unseen, somewhere in Ohio, a thousand kilometres away. We're ready.
And yet. The Ottawa Senators aren't a playoff team, and they aren't even a very good team most nights, but if you are reading this they are probably your team, and tonight's game, win or lose, is one of only four remaining. Only four more nights at home on the couch, the evening planned around your team. Only four more nights of Erik Karlsson, of Jason Spezza, of Dean and Denis and Paul and Patrick and Clarke. Only four more nights and then they're all gone, some for months, some forever.
The season is almost over and the Senators are almost dead, but as we enjoy what little time we have left with them, at RBM we'd rather throw a wake than a funeral, and that means celebrating tonight the only way we know how - by making stupid, borderline-offensive jokes. Let's go!
I don't want to say this game starts out with both teams a little discombobulated, but five minutes in, I've managed more shots (two, tequila) than these teams have (one, Ottawa). It's almost like we're watching a game between two teams at the bottom of the Eastern conference with little to play for except next year; that explains why the Islanders are test-driving ten rookies tonight, and the Senators are starting Matt Kassian.
In Kassian's defense, he is playing for a job next year, which explains, eight minutes into the period, his eagerness to throw down with Brett Gallant, an AHL enforcer playing in his first NHL game. The referees correctly refuse to have anything to do with these types of shenanigans, ordering both to the box for unsportsmanlike conduct and making it clear there's no room in NHL hockey for premeditated violence for at least two minutes, once they're both back on the ice. When that happens, which it obviously does, Gallant drops Kassian with one punch and sends him right to the dressing room. It's not clear whether Kassian actually needs medical attention or if he's just getting a jump on printing out his CV.
With seven minutes to go, the Senators get their best scoring chance of the period, as a streaking Erik Condra beats his man over the Islanders blue line, then feeds a pass into the middle for Zack Smith, only to watch his shot on net stopped by Islanders goalie Anders Nilsson. Condra scowls and curses himself for giving up the puck, knowing he could have easily put it somewhere Nilsson would have never reached it, that being two feet wide of the net and off the end boards.
The rest of the period passes routinely, and by "routinely", I mean the Senators end up taking more penalties than their opponents. To the Senators' good fortune, they're playing the 2014 Islanders and not the any-other-year anybodys, and so both teams come out of the first period scoreless. Remember, only 3.67 games of this left before you have to find something else to do, like go outside, volunteer in your community, or talk to a person. On the other hand, the Blue Jackets are losing after one, so let's not make our summer plans all at once!
Do you think Jason Spezza ever wonders what life would have been like if he'd actually been drafted by the Islanders instead of traded to the Senators? Do you think he's ever held up an Islanders jersey on his body in front of a mirror? "Done up in blueprint blue," he'd whisper. "It sure looks good on you." Why am I musing about Jason Spezza experimenting with identity by trying on clothing otherwise considered offensive and taboo? Boredom, mostly, as the first half of the second period passes without any quality scoring chances.
Ten minutes in, though, the Senators go to the power play after Anders Lee roughs up Zack Smith and is sent to the Bob's Discount Furniture penalty box for two minutes (the Senators' box at the Canadian Tire Centre is of course sponsored by Bulk Barn, given the volume in which the Senators take penalties). When the Senators can't convert, the Islanders oblige them by dumping Erik Condra in the corner and putting the Senators back on the power play, which quickly leads to Jason Spezza point shot that makes it 1-0 Senators. He smiles for the camera.
That's about it for the second period - at one point Patrick Wiercioch gets Matt Martin so mad that Martin punches him and takes a roughing penalty, although that's nothing compared to the time Wiercioch got Paul MacLean so mad that MacLean benched him for four months. With the Coyotes and Blue Jackets tied after two, the Senators are 20 minutes from elimination.
Not twenty seconds into the third, Frans Nielsen tucks a rebound behind Craig Anderson to make it 1-1. Can't really blame Anderson, given how badly the rookie Islanders are outshooting the Senators. Still, it's Nielsen's 25th goal of the year, giving him the late goals lead in this year's Neiler standings:
1) Nielsen, NYI - 25 G, 8 PIM
2) Neal, PIT - 24 G, 53 PIM
3) Neil, OTT - 8 G, 204 PIM
Unfortunately for Nielsen, however, the Neiler is awarded by GxPIM, which leaves the standings as follows:
1) Neil, OTT - 1632
2) Neal, PIT - 1272
3) Nielsen, NYI - 200
Nice try, Nielsen. Nobody orders a danish for breakfast when they can have grits.
Eight minutes in, the Senators get another quality 2-on-1 chance on net, as Clarke MacArthur feeds a wide-open Kyle Turris, only to have Nilsson make a sprawling glove save to keep the Senators off the board. Behind the bench, MacLean scowls and issues a warning: "If you guys aren't scoring, I'll just put Kassian back in, I promise." Kassian, sporting a black eye from the first period, shakes his head hesitantly.
With seven to go in the third, though, it's the captain again, as a rushing Spezza hits a shot from an impossible angle on the goal line and pops it over Nilsson's shoulder to make it 2-1 Senators. "There's no way we can trade Spezza," say Sens fans everywhere. "There's no way this doesn't increase his trade value," Bryan Murray exclaims. Meanwhile, in Columbus, Blake Comeau scores to make it 3-2 Blue Jackets.
Little more than a minute later, Ales Hemsky cuts in behind the Islanders defense and makes it 3-1 Senators on a low corner shot that beats Nilsson. "There's no way this doesn't increase his price tag," bemoans Bryan Murray. On the bench, Hemsky forces Spezza to look him in the eye. "Whatever happens, Jason," Hemsky says,"they will always remember what we did. They will always remember what happened here." Spezza giggles nervously.
Then the Islanders pull Nilsson and all hell breaks loose, and by hell, I mean a Matt Kassian empty net goal during the last minute of play. "I told you goldbricks," says MacLean. Kassian unfortunately falls one assist short of a Gordie Howe hat trick, just as he did during the other four games in his career in which he scored a random goal. 4-1 Senators is your final. In Columbus, Oliver Ekman-Larsson scores a late goal for the Coyotes to make it 3-3; can they score one more to keep the Senators alive?
Nope. The Blue Jackets take their game to overtime, which means the Senators win the game and are eliminated at the same time. Somewhere in Ohio, the axe has fallen. But still, Kassian empty-netter? Rad as hell.
That's it for this season, folks. The Senators have three games left to try out the kids, explore the space, and maybe even pass the similarly-eliminated Leafs. I intend to enjoy them. See you next year!