Fourteen to Go!!! Senators 8, Tampa Bay 4
posted Apr 26, 2006 at 12:12AM
To me the magic moment of the game came relatively early in the first period, when the entire fourth line was sitting in the penalty box a la the Hanson Brothers. More than anything else, it was a sign that Ottawa had come to play. I know I said they don't hand out points for developing energy, but they proved me wrong.
The Senators went on to put in a dominating road performance. All the elements were there. Ultra aggressive fore-checking, great physical play, great play-making and a transformative effort from our defence corps.
Redden was indeed big medicine, for all the reasons people could have expected. Great defensive work, great passing and even chipping in with a goal. Chara's game took on a dominating physical aspect, a performance that was greatly improved from Game Two. Of course it must be mentioned, in a raucous, emotional game, Chara showed some real class. In a fight he had, with LeCavalier down and out, Chara could have sent him into the wild beyond -- but held up at the last minute. Everyone in that arena knew that LeCavalier's fate was in Chara's hands
Havlat is doing everything one could expect of an elite player, coming through again with two big goals and an assist. It is not just that he scores goals, he scores goals with style, the equivalent of an in your face dunk. There are levels upon levels of skill, and Havlat scores the kind of goals that lets everyone know that Ottawa, when it has its act together, is in a league of its own.
Chris Neil took the role of agitator to master class levels. He would just get on the ice and smile at them, and Tampa Bay players were literally going rabid. I don't have the exact statistics, but I am not out of line to say that Neil generated almost 20 minutes of Lightning penalties.
This blog has long championed the case of Vermette and he came through with a great performance. There is no doubt that he has brought his game to yet another new level, just in time for the playoffs. He isn't the biggest guy around but there he was doing Hulk Hogan hammer locks with players 30 pounds heavier. There was his usual work on the PK. He led the team with five shots on net, and potted two goals himself.
He was part of something more significant as well. He became the first player, outside of Alfredson, who actually broke into the Heatley/Spezza pairing "mystique" and was able to play with them as part of an integrated line. They were great on the ice, with tic-tac toe passing and creative playmaking between the three of them, all generating lots of offensive pressure.
Why this game and not before in the regular season? I don't know. Maybe it was because the three actually got a practice together yeserday. Perhaps because Vermette has elevated his game he can mix it up with them. For sure, his puck handling has been the most assured it has been all season. The line could easily have scored three or four more goals, if they could have found the range -- especially Heatley (who finally did break the ice with a powerplay goal.)
Aaaagh ... you are probably now wondering if this means I have changed my mind about putting the Big Line together? Not at all. It is great to see Vermette show that he has the tools to play with Spezza and Heatley, but I still see Alfredson as the guy who should be there.
Right now the team is not getting the most it could from Alfredson, who has been left isolated, playing with Smolinski and Eaves. And really, the sore thumb here, I feel, is Smolinski. In these playoffs, the reserve currency is speed, and Smolinski doesn't quite have it. Alfredson and Eaves were often playing as a pair only.
No, in my way of thinking the optimum line up for Ottawa would have Vermette as center of our third line between Kelly and Eaves. It would be a very good and very fast third line, and a great complement to the two "super lines". We would get the most from these three young players, if they were put together. Most importantly, we give Alfredson the circumstances to really add and maximize his formidable talents to the mix with the Big Line.
I think the only other negative I would have about this game, is the fact that we let up a bit in the third period. We didn't really press on a seven minute power-play and even in short-handed situations, where you usually see Ottawa attack, they tried to just kill time. The minute we laid back Tampa Bay started popping in goals. What if we had gotten a five minute major? They could have made it close. And when it's close ... anything can happen.
The playoffs to date has proven that multi-goal leads are not safe. We need to remember: "pedal to the metal", "never lay back", " keep the pressure on", and the "safe=death" philosophy that we had at the beginning of the year.
All in all though, it was a wildly entertaining and enjoyable game to watch. Ottawa gave a glimpse of what it can do. I am hopeful that the best is yet to come.