Grinder Dale Weise scored a pair of goals, including the overtime winner, to lead Montreal to a 2-1 win in Ottawa Sunday night.
Here are three quick thoughts after a contest that saw the Canadiens take a 3-0 lead in their best-of-seven series:
1. Michel Therrien's juggling act
For a guy whose game management skills are routinely questioned in hockey-mad Montreal, Therrien's displayed an uncanny knack for pushing all the right buttons in this series. His latest spark of inspiration: slotting Weise alongside Brandon Prust and Torrey Mitchell late in the third period. The trio immediately combined for the tying goal with 5:47 remaining and then connected on the winner 8:47 into OT.
The line clicked primarily because of the speed Weise added to the mix. On the equalizer he shook Mike Hoffman's check and burst into open ice in time to corral the rebound off Prust's side of the net bid. On the winner he left Milan Michalek in his dust and exploded down the left side, creating time and space to wind up for the clap bomb that fooled Craig Anderson short side.
That was a game, and possibly series-changing adjustment. If Therrien happens to have any magic left, he might want to apply it to the power play. The unit was a gruesome 0 for 6 on the night, failing to put the game away on chances with under four minutes left in the third and six minutes into overtime. Outside of the first attempt, which featured extended possession in the Ottawa zone and a P.K. Subban blast that rang off the post, the Habs failed to generated consistent pressure or high-end chances. As it has all series (and pretty much all season), the unit struggled to create a presence down low and settled for one-and-done shots from distance.
They got away with it Sunday, but it might be a tougher blemish to mask in the next round.
2. Sloppy seconds
When the Senators look back at how this series got away from them, they only have to look at their inability to play the middle frame in each of these three games with anywhere near the intensity they mustered in the first.
It's probably too much to expect a team to play 60 minutes the way Ottawa came out in that opening 20. Led by their captain Erik Karlsson, fully engaged in beast-mode, the Sens dominated the first. They came at the Canadiens in waves, getting the best of the possession and the physical game. A Clarke MacArthur goal late in the frame allowed Ottawa to carry 1-0 lead into the second period for the third consecutive game. But while they managed to preserve it into the third for the first time, it was a fleeting victory. The Canadiens quickly reeled the game in, taking advantage of a decline in Ottawa's drive to control possession and outshot the Sens 19-6, running their second period shots advantage to 52-26 for the series.
It's one thing for the Habs to take control at home in Games 1 and 2. But with their season essentially on the line it's hard to understand how there was such an obvious drop-off in Ottawa's desperation after the first intermission Sunday.
That said, there was one Senator who never flagged. Karlsson turned in an epic performance, attempting 12 shots and landing six hits in what might have been the most physical game of his career. The open-ice hit he delivered to Nathan Beaulieu was a classic straight out of the Scott Stevens catalog. There'll be some question about the principal point of contact–it looked like his shoulder connected directly with Beaulieu's head–but it looked clean. Despite the protestations of Montreal's fans, it's not likely to attract the attention of the Department of Player Safety.
3. Andy was dandy... mostly
Sens coach Dave Cameron put it all on the line when he benched his team's second-half savior Andrew Hammond in favor of Anderson. The veteran backstop justified his faith, making 47 saves and holding Ottawa in contention while it spent much of the final 40 minutes of regulation on its heels. Outside of a flashy glove stop on a Jeff Petry point blast in overtime it was a thoroughly workmanlike affair, with most of Montreal's chances denting the crest or bouncing harmlessly off the pillows. That's a testament to his strong positioning and excellent rebound control, but also says a lot about the inability of the Canadiens to make his life miserable down low.
Still, he'll take some heat for giving up the OT winner, and justifiably so. It was an unscreened chance from distance that went in because he was ever so slightly off his angle. That's a tough one any time of year. At that moment, it was inexcusable. It was also predictable. Third periods were tough for Anderson down the stretch. He allowed the game winner in the final stanza in each of his previous two starts and coughed up a 4-0 lead to Calgary on March 8 that had to be salvaged in the shootout.
I expect Cameron will go back to Anderson for Game 4, but down 3-0 it probably doesn't matter.