Series only truly turned in third period of Game 4
It’s been over a year since the Ottawa Senators’ dreams of their first championship in over 80 years unravelled in shocking fashion, when they lost 6-2 to the Anaheim Ducks in the decisive Game 5 of the 2007 Stanley Cup final.
Back home, they wasted no time putting away the Senators, who finally cracked under pressure and simply self-destructed in all facets of the game. The goal by Chris Phillips on his own team, the whiffed penalty shot by Antoine Vermette, and weak goals let in by goaltender Ray Emery were notable low-lights.
The 2007 Ducks were a big, mean squad that physically punished the Senators at nearly every possible opportunity, and scored timely goals.
They also barely made it to the Stanley Cup final, and were lucky to get away with what they did physically – but more on the bruising later.
Many would say Ottawa really lost the series early on after going into a 2-0 hole, and that Game 5 was simply the icing on the cake.
Not so. They were in it until the third period of Game 4, which led to the total write-off that was Game 5.
By the skin of their teeth
After Game 4 was in the books, the Ducks had won a record 12 one-goal games in their playoff run, equalling their own record from 2003, and Montreal’s 1993 run.
This meant that getting through all four rounds was done by the skin of their teeth. Nine of the 12 required victories to claim the West were by one goal, along with three in the Cup final (3-2 in Game 1, 1-0 in Game 2, 3-2 in Game 4).
Five of the Ducks’ nine one-goal games to beat the Western teams were in overtime, including three in Round 2 vs. Vancouver, and two in the Conference final vs. Detroit.
The Ducks caught a huge break when Red Wings defenceman Andreas Lilja whiffed on a breakout pass, allowing Teemu Selanne to score in overtime of Game 5. With only 47 seconds left in the third period, Ducks defenceman Scott Niedermayer had scored the Ducks’ only goal of the game with the man advantage, tying the contest.
Hardly a walk.
Granted, the Senators also won two overtime games in the Eastern Conference final vs. Buffalo, but also made quick work of the East in a 12-3 romp.
Ray Emery...for Conn Smythe?
Well, that could be a stretch now, but it was not outrageous at the time.
During the aforementioned 12-3 romp, Senators goaltender Ray Emery had three shutouts en route to the final, while his opponent in the final, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, had none.
It should be pointed out that Emery had the shutdown tandem of Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov playing in front of him, with the latter leading the league with 273 blocked shots in the regular season.
In the same breath, Emery made the stops when he needed to. In the second round, he outshone future hall-of-famer Martin Brodeur, who let in several soft goals.
Notably, the brash Emery shone in the third round against the Sabres. An athletic, aggressive netminder who was at his peak, one of Emery’s best and most crucial saves came in overtime of Game 2 of the series, when he denied Thomas Vanek a wraparound attempt with a quick stretch of his right pad.
The would-be series-tying goal found Emery’s pad, opening the door for Joe Corvo to score in the second overtime, putting the Sabres in a 2-0 series hole. Emery would go on to shut out the Sabres 1-0 in a razor-thin Game 3, before the Senators dropped Game 4 despite nearly digging themselves out of a 3-0 hole (they lost 4-3).
Fast-forward to Game 2 of the Cup showdown with the Ducks, which might have been Emery’s best. As Giguere shone at the other end, thwarting the Senators’ glorious chances to take the lead on a 5-on-3 power play, Emery made big saves of his own on Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Rob Niedermayer.
Emery would let in the only goal of the game with just over four minutes left, a screened shot from Samuel Pahlsson on the wing that would hold up as the winner.
In front of him, his team held up well, considering the beating they took in Game 1 while managing to take two leads. Drawing on the positives, the Senators returned to hockey-mad Ottawa.
Bowman to Murray: Ducks flying in the face of the rulebook
Game 3 set the stage for what would be a clearly energized Senators team, considering how close they came in the first two under hostile circumstances.
Before Game 2, Senators coach Bryan Murray had to bite his tongue about the officiating in the series thus far. The most penalized team during the regular season for their aggressive, physical style, the Ducks seemed determined to win at all physical cost, which was evident in their ascent to the final.
“They got their physical play from good dump-ins and not us holding anybody up. Their first man in got the hits,” he told the Ottawa Sun. “That was the main part. The other part is when people are standing around in front of the net trying to defend and they’re hammering away at our defencemen, as well as our goaltender. Those are two areas that concern me.”
Murray said he spoke with former Red Wings coach Scotty Bowman, who at the time was a special assistant to general manager Ken Holland, about the Ducks’ tactics. Murray said that Bowman warned him about the illegal obstruction the Ducks employed to send the Wings packing.
“I just talked to some of the Detroit people and they just told me this is the way it went (in the last series),” Murray also told the Sun. “I guess it should have been clear in my mind this is what’s going to happen and we’ll be allowed to do likewise.”
Clearly, a thinly-veiled shot at the zebras.
As the series unfolded, it became clear that the checking line of Samuel Pahlsson and wingers Rob Niedermayer and Travis Moen knew their roles and were pushing the boundaries. As Murray alluded to, the Senators’ defence—and often Emery too—got pounded at every opportunity. In Game 4, a frustrated Emery tried to sell the latest run on him by Niedermayer, finally resulting in Ducks penalty.
The most obvious consequence of this for the Senators?
The Pahlsson-Moen-Niedermayer unit had last change in Anaheim, so the trio were able to effectively keep the powerful Ottawa line of Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley, and Daniel Alfredsson in check, obstructively speaking or not.
Bruising defencemen Chris Pronger and Francois Beauchemin, as Murray alluded to, were only too happy to obstruct Ottawa forwards from gaining the zone. Pronger, of course, only got suspended one game for elbowing Dean McAmmond in the head to try and prevent McAmmond’s Game 3 winner, despite being a repeat offender (he sat out Game 6 of the Detroit series for cross-checking Tomas Holmstrom into the glass in Game 5).
Game 3: stealing back momentum
Despite the adversity, the Senators took matters into their own hands in Game 3. The Ducks took three leads in the game, but the Senators erased all of them and won 5-3 in their most determined effort yet, in front of a red-clad, raucous Scotiabank Place crowd of 20,500.
Chris Neil led a revengeful physical effort, notably tattooing Teemu Selanne into the glass for one of his five hits on the night (The Senators outhit the Ducks 32-26), and also potted the tying goal.
The Senators scored three straight goals to close out the game, which saw the Ducks take seven of 12 third-period penalties handed out.
More calls on the Ducks created more chances for the Senators, who jumped on the opportunity to shut down their bigger opponents on a suddenly even playing field. Despite the Dean McAmmond injury in the third, momentum was the Senators’ heading into Game 4, and one stat showed it all.
Shots on goal.
Ottawa’s momentum in Game 3 allowed the team to force the issue with the Ducks, who managed a paltry three shots on net in the final frame. This would continue into Game 4, as the Ducks managed just two shots in the opening period.
Game 4: the tide begins to turn
After nearly escaping the first period unscathed, despite being outshot 13-2, the Ducks allowed Daniel Alfredsson to score in heartbreaking fashion off of a slick feed from Mike Fisher, with 0.3 seconds remaining.
Normally, a team would be deflated after such a goal. After missing a glorious opportunity to take an insurmountable 3-0 lead in the series two nights before, the Ducks effectively allowed the Senators back in the series; up 1-0 after one period, at home, and only down 2-1 in the best-of-seven.
This moment was truly a turning point for either team, and therefore the series overall. Either the Senators hold on and make it a best-of-three, or the Ducks find it within themselves to claw back and put the hammer on any comeback attempt.
The Ducks proved themselves mentally stronger, and refused to let either the Senators or the officiating, which finally improved in Game 3, rattle their psyche or change their bruising battle plan. Rob Niedermayer led a hit parade and a rejuvenated defensive effort in the second period that was stronger than ever.
The Senators’ psyche would hold up, but not much longer. Outshot 13-4 in the second frame, the suddenly vulnerable team allowed two more goals from Andy McDonald, who ended up with five in the series.
McDonald didn’t even score until midway through the period, after Ottawa killed off two straight penalties. He outwaited Emery and defenceman Andrej Meszaros, swirling around both to roof it in an open cage.
Exactly one minute later, he caught Chris Neil not hustling back on the backcheck, and took a Rob Niedermayer pass right in on Emery and tucked one under the pads that Emery should have had. Fearless defender Anton Volchenkov slapped his stick in disgust on the play.
“Say it ain’t so,” blared Weezer through the loudspeakers.
The slide was evident on the other end when the Ducks’ defensive pressure only allowed Dany Heatley (three), and one other Senators player (Alfredsson, with a 48-foot wrister) to hit the net. Heatley would score to tie things up heading into the third off of a cross-ice Spezza feed, but it was the beginning of the end.
The frustration got the better of Alfredsson, as the Conn Smythe Trophy favourite and Ottawa’s beloved hockey hero shot the puck at fellow captain Scott Niedermayer in the dying moments of the second frame.
It was obvious, uncalled for, and unfair. Even fellow Swedish national teammate Samuel Pahlsson was sure to physically make his displeasure clear to Alfredsson, and undoubtedly the incident and the melee that ensued gave the all the Ducks a chip on their shoulders heading to the dressing rooms.
“We took it as an act of desperation to try and get his club going,” commented Ryan Getzlaf afterwards in a jubilant Ducks dressing room.
“It definitely hit a chord with our hockey club,” added Ducks coach Randy Carlyle, talking about his captain’s leadership following the incident. “The thing that surprised me the most about it all was that Scott Niedermayer took it upon himself to tell the team to just turn the page on it.”
A sad moment for the classy Alfredsson, it was the harbinger of the death march for his team; if the Ducks could get inside the leader’s head, they were on the right path.
Nail in the coffin: Dustin Penner, 4:07
Cue the inspirational speeches and clichés; the season was officially on the line for the Senators. At home, with 2-2 on the scoreboard, and facing a rejuvenated Ducks squad that didn’t need anymore inspiration before their captain was rattled, it was time to lay it on the line.
Dustin Penner, who hadn’t scored since Round 2, had other ideas.
In a play with haunting similarity to the third-period winning goal in 2003’s heartbreaking Game 7 loss to the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference final, a few Senators were caught with their pants down.
In that game, Wade Redden was caught defending two Devils after defensive partner Karel Rachunek was caught up ice and did not make a quick decision on which Devil to defend. Devils winger Grant Marshall got the puck through Redden’s legs to Jeff Friesen, who had an easy shot. In the blink of an eye, the Senators’ season was done.
Fast forward to 2007. Chris Neil and Chris Kelly got caught up ice forechecking, which led to both Penner and Teemu Selanne rushing freely towards the Ottawa blue line. This time, it was Redden’s split-second decision that was costly; instead of standing up Selanne physically at the line, he turned to chase Penner and both got in cleanly and despite a momentary bungling of the puck, the mistake allowed Selanne to find a charging Penner, who had a wide-open cage.
After turning on his heels, Redden was a full two strides behind Penner. Sadly, the play exemplified the criticism Redden had taken all year for his dropoff in play after a stellar, 50-point 2005-06 campaign that earned him a two-year, $13 million extension.
The series was effectively over after the goal, if the Senators could not respond.
Emery, for his part, made up for the second McDonald goal with an unbelievable glove stop on Beauchemin late in the second, and stoned Corey Perry on a breakaway after Penner’s goal. Ironically, it was Penner that hauled down Joe Corvo in obvious fashion (no penalty was called) on the play and seemed to injure him, allowing Perry to move in alone.
It would not be enough help from Emery, as the Ducks closed the door on the mentally tired Senators after the Penner marker, allowing only three shots. The best chance came in the closing moments off of Andrej Meszaros’ stick.
The tide turns, and finally comes in
The pressure of the Alfredsson-Niedermayer incident, the two McDonald goals, and the Penner goal, plus travelling back to play at the raucous Honda Center down 3-1 would be too much.
After coming so close to getting back in the series, the Senators finally sunk, and sunk fast after the late Game 4 meltdown. No need to analyze the forgettable Game 5 if you’re an Ottawa fan; one replay of the Chris Phillips own-goal on Ray Emery will cement that notion.
Bryan Murray was even forced to double-shift Phillips and Volchenkov, as the Ducks’ relentless pressure was getting to the defensive pairing of Joe Corvo and Tom Preissing.
So the Ducks would celebrate their first Stanley Cup, albeit with somewhat of an asterisk.
Yes, they scored timely goals. Yes, they were mentally and physically tough. Yes, they had solid coaching and goaltending, and were very deep.
Despite being the most penalized team in the league, there’s the whole matter of still getting away with all the illegal obstruction, crease-crashing, and body contact as well as catching the breaks to win those one-goal games
But as the saying goes, you’ve got to be lucky to be good, and good to be lucky.
That’s hockey, after all. Oftentimes, it’s reduced to a game of bounces.
The Ducks took it all, but the Senators were in it until the end, despite circumstances beyond their control.
Not that the Prince of Wales trophy is any huge consolation.
TALE OF THE TAPE: 2007 STANLEY CUP FINAL, GAMES 1-4
"President's 2 Cents" archive of Gallagher's postgame Senators columns (mostly 2007 playoffs): http://sens2cents.blogspot.com