Ottawa 3 Tampa Bay 2
I figured, based on how easily they folded in game four, that the Tampa Bay Lightning had no life left in them and would roll over in game give. That was not the case.
They proved to still have some fight in them and made the series clincher difficult for the Sens. There can be little disputing that the Sens were the better team but Tampa held their own and generated enough chances right up to the end that the hearts of Sens Nation were beating at a rapid pace. I imagine more than a few of you needed some liquid courage to get through those last five minutes.
I'm going to quickly go over tonight's game because I plan to wrap up the entire series from the Sens perspective Monday.
Jason Spezza & Dany Heatley. Very good transition game from these two. It seemed as if every time they were on the ice a rush occured and a scoring chance of some kind was generated. They were causing havoc in the Lightning zone for the entire game.
Antoine Vermette. Lined up with Heatley and Spezza, Vermette had another sensational game but made his biggest impact on the penalty kill. It says a lot about what the confidence Bryan Murray has in Vermette that the young man was on the ice for the 6-on-4 at the end of the game. Vermette lost his stick early in the shift but still blocked a shot.
Wade Redden. It's been a magical series for Redden and this may have been his best game. Another excellent tape-to-tape pass from him resulted in a goal and he was tremendous with Andrej Meszaros in his own end. With no Chris Phillips, Redden took on more minutes and answered the challenged very well. The moment in which he came out to an ovation after being named the game's number one star and pointed to the skies was incredibly moving and sums up his series very well.
Martin Havlat. Without question the best Sen all series, he was explosive every time he touched the puck. Led all Sens in shots on goal and made every one of them count.
Faceoffs. Ottawa was very good on the draws. Bryan Smolinski in particular, winning 12 of the 14 he took
Anton Volchenkov. The A-Train continues to disappoint. Very discouraging play.
The defending Cup champs had been let down by inconsistent goaltending all season long. I suppose there's some irony in the reality that by the time they got great goaltending in this series, they were in such a hole it was too late.
The only reason this win wasn't by three or four goals was Sean Burke. That isn't meant to be a slight against the Bolts, because they came to play and left it all on the ice, but put John Grahame between the pipes and the score isn't even close. Burke can't be faulted on any of the goals and made enough spectaculat saves in the third period to keep them in the game.
One of the things I noted about game four was how easily they folded their tent when the Sens got up a goal, essentially making the game over at the second intermission. When Havlat scored to make it 3-1 I figured this would happen once again, but Burke refused to fall into the same old trapping and within a two minute span made a handful of huge saves that looked to energize the bench and make them realize it wasn't over. Sure enough, Brad Richards, who's been their best skater this series, scored not soon after to cut the gap in half once again.
What let the Bolts down on the night wasn't shabby netminding but instead an impotent powerplay, which has been a reoccuring theme for them all season. They had the 21st ranked PP in the NHL despite sporting some gunners and that trend carried over into the postseason and they had the worst powerplay of any team this playoffs. They went 0 for 4 on the night and their troubles with the man advantage could be best summed up by the last minute of the game when they had a 6-on-4 (Burke was pulled) and could not get a good scoring chance out of it, even with their season hanging in the balance.
In the postgame press conference, which sadly was without any profanity, John Tortorella basically admitted that he didn't have the horses to work with, pointing the finger in a not so subtle way at GM Jay Feester, though he did say he and Jay made the decision to go with Grahame and Burke at the start of the season.
After a wonderful season in '03-'04 that saw them take home Stanley, being ousted in the first round in five games has to be a colossal disappointment to the franchise and its fans, and can't be spun as anything but a step backward after years of visible steps in the right direction. Where they go from here will be interesting. Signing Brad Richards has to be a top priority, but moreso than securing their goaltending? They also need help on the blueline. Pavel Kubina, who was awesome in the first game but vanished shortly thereafter, is a UFA and will probably get some good offers. They might be wise to let him go and invest that money in a few lower profile guys who can still do the job.
The team also has to address the fact that a few guys were passengers in this series. Where was Fredrik Modin and his 30 goals? I know Vaclav Prospal was playing hurt, but his disappearing act reminded Sens fans of his time here. Ruslan Fedotenko showed a lot of fight, but also took too many bad penalties and didn't produce offensively.
The team needed its secondary scorers to ease the load of the Big Three, and they weren't up to the job. So I have to think Feester and Co. will look at bringing in some new faces who can.