After Craig Anderson was given a leave of absence from the Senators on Thursday, few would have expected the goaltender back in net for Ottawa by the end of the weekend, and that goes double after news that Anderson’s wife, Nicholle, had been diagnosed with cancer. But starting in the Senators’ crease Sunday night following an untimely injury to netminder Andrew Hammond was Anderson, and he put on the performance of a lifetime.
Anderson, 35, was tested early and often by a high flying Edmonton Oilers club — one that was riding a five-game winning streak — but he was not to be beaten Sunday evening. Anderson turned away five shots from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, four from Jordan Eberle and two from star Connor McDavid. The Senators netminder was perfect when tested on the penalty kill, and Anderson held fast in a tight game until winger Bobby Ryan could ice the game with an empty-netter and Ottawa’s lone insurance goal with 33 seconds left.
The final score was 2-0 for the Senators, and Anderson, in his emotional return, celebrated with a 37-save shutout.
It was the moments after the game that made Anderson’s feat so special, though, including the show of respect from his teammates, the crowd in Edmonton and Oilers netminder Cam Talbot, who remained in the tunnel to give Anderson a standing ovation as he thanked the fans after being named the game’s first star:
Anderson’s story is made all the more amazing by the incredible strength of his wife, who was the catalyst for Anderson even suiting up for the Senators on Sunday night. It was Nicholle who told her husband to call Ottawa GM Pierre Dorion after Hammond’s injury, and her encouragement led to Anderson heading to Edmonton to take the start in the Senators’ time of need.
“Nicholle was the one who wanted Craig to come back,” Dorion said, according to the Ottawa Citizen's Bruce Garrioch. “She was the one who said, ‘Craig, your teammates need you right now.’ We made this decision after consulting with Craig and Nicholle, their doctors, and we all felt because of this time frame it was all right for him to rejoin the team.”
There’s no certainty about how long Anderson will remain with the team or if he will take another leave of absence once Hammond is healthy, and that’s a decision that can come down the road.
“We’re very proud of Nicholle and Craig,” Dorion said, according to Garrioch. “They’re dealing with a tremendous issue right now. For him to be around his teammates, with his presence, he’s going to be embraced by his teammates and it’s only going to help us grow as a family and a hockey family.”
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