Craig Anderson continued his playoff mastery of the Canadiens, stopping 45 shots to lead Ottawa to a 5–1 win over Montreal in Game 5 on Friday night. The Senators still trail the series 3-2, but head home on Sunday with confidence and a chance to extend the set to a decisive Game 7.
Here are three quick thoughts on tonight's contest:
1. Andy was dandy.
There‘s “the Zone” and then there‘s whatever mystical elevated plane that Anderson happens to be residing in right now. The veteran keeper has come off the bench to become the story of the series, and that‘s bad news for the favored but offensively bereft Canadiens.
Despite the lopsided score, the Habs did pretty much everything they wanted to in this one. After being shut out in Game 4, they were relentless in their attack. They peppered Anderson with shots from all over the ice. They consistently got men to the net to disrupt his vision. They hacked and whacked at him to throw off his concentration.
Nothing worked. Pucks that flew threw a forest of bodies bounced harmlessly off Anderson. Screens were cleared just in time for him to see the puck, and when they weren't he correctly guessed where they were headed and swallowed them up. This was a clinic in playoff goaltending, highlighted by his denial of Tomas Plekanec on a shorthanded breakaway attempt with the game still up for grabs in the second period. Anderson's ability to seize that moment, much like he did when stopping Brandon Prust's solo bid in Game 4, has been the difference as momentum has swung clearly in Ottawa's favor.
The Canadiens came into this series looking to derail red-hot Andrew (Hamburglar) Hammond. They did that, taking advantage of some lax defensive postures and a few bounces to staple the rookie to the bench after Game 2. Now they have to solve the seasoned Anderson, who has made 120 saves on 123 shots for a .976 save percentage since entering this series in Game 3 and looks more than capable of stealing the series out from under them.
2. Montreal squandered opportunities.
It was right there for the Canadiens. The Sens all but handed it to them. Just 53 seconds into the game, overwhelmed by the volume of the raucous Bell Centre crowd and maybe a little too anxious with their season on the line, Ottawa was caught with too many men on the ice. This was the chance for Montreal's beleaguered power play to deliver an early strike that would put Ottawa on its heels.
Instead it came up empty, failing to land a single shot on net. Same old story
Having dodged the bullet, the Sens regained their footing and settled back into their game plan. Before the period was over, they'd capitalized twice, including Bobby Ryan's first goal in 16 games. In the second, Ottawa came up with a power play marker of its own off the stick of Erik Karlsson to capitalize on a painfully stupid penalty by David Desharnais to put the game seemingly out of reach.
But then Tom Gilbert scored early in the third to get the crowd and the Canadiens back into it, and Karlsson took a stupid penalty of his own midway through the frame to hand Montreal's power play one more chance for redemption.
You know how it went.
The Canadiens are now one-for-19 with the extra man through five games and there's probably 19 reasons why they somehow look even worse than they did in the regular season. There's too much stationary play. David Desharnais won't shoot and can't win a puck battle. Max Pacioretty is clearly less than 100 percent. P.K. Subban can't get his shots to the net. And on and on it goes.
Montreal's "powerkill" become the dead horse of the series, but if this thing ends up going south, this is where the fingers will point.
3. A shift in pressure
To paraphrase the great Samuel L. Jackson, hold onto your butts, Habs fans. A series that looked safely in hand after Dale Weise clinched Game 3 in overtime is now frighteningly back in play.
Sure, the odds remain heavily in Montreal's favor. Just four teams in NHL history have ever come back from a 3-0 series deficit, and even though two of those happened recently–2010, when the Flyers came back against the Bruins and 2014 when the Kings stunned the Sharks–the Canadiens have two chances to get one win, including Game 7 back at the Bell Centre. Ottawa has no margin for error.
History's on their side, too. The Canadiens have held a 3-0 lead 32 times in best-of-seven series. They've never once been forced to a seventh game.
Still, is anyone going to bet against these Senators after all they've accomplished over the past two months? This is is a team that was 14 points out of a playoff spot and headed for a high lottery pick before Hammond led them on that improbable 21-3-3 run. These guys have been staring down elimination since Feb. 10 and haven't buckled. Why would they now, especially considering how Anderson is playing?
Clearly they have to be better than they have been over the past two games. The more passive forecheck has allowed them to improve their positioning and minimize mistakes, but it's been a free pass for the Canadiens to dominate possession. That's a tough way to win four straight, especially given that Carey Price will be highly motivated after allowing five goals Friday night. If they allow the Habs to dictate the style of play, Game 6 will be much tougher to win than Game 5.