“Love” is what Ottawa Senators’ goaltender Craig Anderson says he’ll remember most after this season after suffering a 3-2 double overtime Game 7 loss against the Pittsburgh Penguins – not the wins, not the losses, but love – paying testament to the emotional season the Sens have had this year.
Between Anderson’s touching return to the game after news broke that his wife Nicholle had cancer, Clarke MacArthur’s continuous struggle with concussions, Kyle Turris’ humbling work with the Capital City Condors, or number one Sens fan Jonathan Pitre’s fight for his life, this year was filled with emotion for the Sens.
And heading into this game, emotions were at an all time high.
The odds were stacked against the Sens, despite having guys that you wanted to root for. Throughout their entire post-season they were continuously underestimated and pegged as the perpetual underdog. They weren’t supposed to win against Boston, they weren’t supposed to win against the Rangers, and the Penguins were supposed to sweep them in an easy four games.
On top of that, they were criticized for playing “boring” hockey under Guy Boucher’s 1-3-1 system and for not selling-out all their playoff home games.
They were not expected to make it this far – to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, with a shot at the Stanley Cup within their reach. And yet, here they were.
In a tense game from start to finish – especially for those watching the game on Sens Mile who faced a power outage just before the start of the game – this Game 7 had fans on the edge of their seat, holding their breath, until the very last second.
Both teams played an even-strength, fast-paced first period that resulted in a scoreless 20 minutes – setting the tone for just how tight the game would be.
The game would remain scoreless until the midway point of the second, when Penguins forward Chris Kunitz found the back of the net on a two-on-one play with Connor Sheary to give the Pens a 1-0 lead. However, Ottawa Senator Mark Stone responded just 20 seconds later with a shot over Pens netminder Matt Murray to make the game 1-1 after 40.
The Pens were the first to open up the scoring again in the third period, after Senators’ defenseman Dion Phaneuf took a costly tripping penalty against former teammate Phil Kessel. This penalty gave Justin Shultz the chance to score off a feed from Kessel and Kunitz to make it 2-1 with 8:16 to go in regulation.
But, again, Ottawa was quick to respond as Ryan Dzingel netted one off a rebound to tie it up with 5:19 to go. Pittsburgh fans fell silent.
Then, both teams held on to push the game into the ultimate do-or-die overtime.
Despite some major scoring chances for Pittsburgh in the first overtime, it seemed as though luck was on Ottawa’s side – namely when Phil Kessel drove towards the net and hit the crossbar with just 3:32 to go.
Ultimately, 80 minutes wasn’t going to be enough to settle this game and the Sens would go on to play another round of overtime hockey against the defending Stanley Cup champs.
However, this overtime was cut short when Kunitz fired one over Anderson’s shoulder to end the Sens post-season dreams. Kunitz, who picked up an assist and two goals this game, hadn’t scored since February 16.
Anderson, who was phenomenal for the Sens this post-season, faced a total of 42 shots to Murray’s 29.
“It doesn’t feel like it’s happening, but it is,” Anderson said post-game. “We played our hearts out, gave it everything we had. We laid it out there. We put it on the line.”
That, they did.
The Sens not only fought until the very end, but did so when nobody else expected them to. After facing adverse circumstances time after time, they gave the city something to be proud of.