By Allan Muir
Heading into their playoff meeting, the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens didn’t have any obvious rivalry with each other. Three games later, that’s no longer the case. The ill will that was built upon the Lars Eller hit and the ensuing war of words through the first two contests was amped up to a new level after Ottawa humiliated the Habs 6-1 in a fractious, fight-filled Game 3. Jean-Gabriel Pageau, a rookie who played in just nine regular season games, led the Sens with three goals and Craig Anderson recorded 34 saves in the win. Ottawa now leads the series 2-1.
Here are a few observations from the contest:
• It’s hard to imagine the game going any worse for Habs defenseman P.K. Subban. His crumbling composure under Ottawa’s constant physical assault served as a metaphor for his team’s struggles on the night. He was hit early and often, and after taking an unpenalized cross-check to the face served up by Erik Condra and an open-ice bomb from Colin Greening, it wasn’t long before he lost his focus. Subban was beaten on Pageau’s first goal and drew a double minor for high-sticking the rookie on the play. He took another minor that aborted a Montreal power play through the second period, then picked up 17 minutes and a trip to the showers after instigating a fight with big, bad Kyle Turris midway through the third. But the ugliest moment might have come when he barked at teammate Max Pacioretty for the suicide pass that set up the Greening hit. There’s a time and place for that discussion, and the middle of a team-wide meltdown wasn’t it.
• While the Senators were reducing the will of Montreal’s top stars with a barrage of heavy hits, Habs fans had to be wondering when their guys would respond in kind to Erik Karlsson and Daniel Alfredsson. Instead, Ottawa’s top playmakers went about their business with relative impunity all night. Alfredsson ended up with a goal and two assists while Karlsson was left alone to gather loose pucks and set up Ottawa’s transition to offense. It’s a good guess that after this throttling Montreal’s checkers will target them in Game 4.
• The moment was lost in the third-period tide of scoring and thuggery, but the game may have turned on a crucial stop by Anderson early in the second. Just minutes after Pageau had extended Ottawa’s lead to to 3-1, Montreal captain Brian Gionta was sprung loose on a partial breakaway. If he scores, the lead is cut to a single goal, the building is silenced and the Habs regain the momentum. Instead, Anderson calmly rejected Gionta’s backhand bid and the Canadiens failed to generate a significant scoring chance the rest of the way.
• While the game was decided at that moment, the series may have turned on an eventful eight-second span later in the third period. Still holding that 3-1 margin, the Sens entered the Montreal zone on a three-on-one break. Karlsson shanked his bid, but Alfredsson beat Josh Gorges to the rebound and fed Turris for the easy tap-in to make it 4-1. A shoving match between Chris Neil and Travis Moen on the ensuing face-off escalated into a 70s-style line brawl in which the Canadiens arguably lost each of the five fights and ended up with the extra minor, putting the Senators back on the power play. Four seconds later, Mika Zibanejad won the draw. Milan Michalek beat Raphael Diaz to the loose puck and set up Jakob Silfverberg, who clowned Carey Price with a wrister. If the Sens take the series, they’ll look back on those eight seconds as the point at which they broke Montreal’s spirit.
• No one is putting this loss on Price, but after he set a new personal low for goals allowed in a playoff game, it’s clear that Montreal’s stopper is being outplayed by Anderson. It’s not that you can point to any of the goals and say he should have stopped them. It’s that he’s not coming up with the big save when his team needs it most. Or any big save, for that matter. At the other end of the ice, Anderson now has allowed one goal or fewer in 12 of his 26 starts this season. That’s the level Price has to exceed if the Habs hope to survive this series.
• For the second time in the series, Ottawa’s blueline was reduced to five in the early going. Patrick Wiercioch was lost to a lower-body injury after just four shifts, forcing a heavy workload on the rest of the D corps. That might have been a problem for a team playing its third game in four nights, but the Sens spent so much time in Montreal’s zone that it made for a relatively easy night on the back end. No word yet on Wiercioch’s condition or his availability for Game 4.
• If you thought the Canadiens got their backs up over Paul MacLean’s comments in the wake of the Lars Eller hit, wait until you hear their reaction to the decision by Ottawa’s coach to call a time-out to prep a power play with 18 seconds left in the game. Here’s the most printable: “As a coach you never want to humiliate the other team,” said Montreal coach Michel Therrien. “It’s exactly what MacLean wanted to do. For me it’s a total lack of class. Even when I mentioned it to the referee, he had never seen that either at 17 seconds.” No doubt it was a bush-league move by MacLean, but given the level of personal attacks aimed his way during this series, he had to be giggling on the inside knowing how crazy it would make the Habs. Now he just has to hope the Canadiens don’t turn it into a rallying point.
• The penalty count for the night: 14 fighting majors, nine game misconducts and 236 minutes assessed. Seems like a long time since the advance talk centered around the mutual respect and lack of animosity the two clubs felt toward each other heading into the series, doesn’t it?
• The league will certainly take a long look at the tape to determine if any supplemental discipline is required. Rene Bourque, who scored Montreal’s only goal, and Brandon Prust seem most likely to get called on the carpet after their late-game cheap shots on Ottawa’s Cory Conacher. Both have suspension histories, so there’s a chance (though not necessarily a good one) that they could be lost for the meaty part of the series.