Some may say it was the luck of the Irish. Others will counter by pointing to the stats on the game sheet. Either way, the end result is the same. The Ottawa Senators stunned a pro-Leafs crowd at Canadian Tire Centre by hammering the Toronto Maple Leafs 6-2 on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day.
Magnus Paajarvi scored twice for the Senators, who also received goals from Cody Ceci, Brian Gibbons, Anthony Duclair, and Oscar Lindberg. Notably, Zack Smith had a rare offensive night. The veteran Senator registered three assists in this match, bringing his total assists this season up to 19. This gives the rugged winger a new career high in that category.
“That was quite truthfully, probably our best game of the year… We had four lines that all played good…everybody rose to the occasion tonight“, said Senators head coach Marc Crawford following the game.
Only Morgan Rielly and John Tavares could solve Anders Nilsson for the Maple Leafs. Tavares’ goal was his 40th of the season, and more impressively, his 700th point (312G, 388A) in 741 games played. Despite allowing these two goals against, the Ottawa goalie earned the game’s first star for his otherwise excellent performance.
By all accounts, this Ottawa victory was a major upset. Toronto currently ranks fifth in the NHL with an impressive record of 43-24-5 and 91 points. Meanwhile, the Senators are in last place, despite improving their record to 25-41-6 and 56 points. Besides losing to the leagues worst team, perhaps more concerning is the fact Toronto has allowed a total of 23 goals against in their last four games, also going 1-3-0 in that span.
Much to the chagrin of many Maple Leaf fans, Ottawa opened the scoring in the first period when Ceci pumped a wrist shot past Garret Sparks.
As the period continued, Nilsson made a huge save on Auston Matthews. The Swedish netminder found himself one-on-one with the Leafs sniper after the Senators made a sloppy line change.
The home team closed this period ahead 1-0 and outshooting their opponents 17-8.
In the second frame, Nilsson picked up where he left off in the first when he made a great glove save off William Nylander. The Leafs forward had many blunders in this game. He was later denied on a breakaway and made some ugly passes that were off-target. His worst mistake was whiffing on a shot that eventually caused Lindberg’s goal, the sixth of the game for the Senators.
At 6:48, Gibbons scored off a fantastic effort to give the Sens a 2-0 lead. Falling to the ice, the 31-year-old spun himself in the air and whacked the puck through Spark’s five-hole.
About six minutes later, Rielly got the Leafs on the scoreboard. The offensively gifted defenseman solved Nilsson by beating the Senators goalie far side with a wrist shot.
Ottawa was quick to respond. Not long after the Rielly snipe, Paajarvi waltzed into the Leafs zone and ripped a shot top-shelf. Later in the period, the former first-round pick of the Edmonton Oilers scored his second of the game in nearly identical fashion.
After two periods, the home team led 4-1 on the scoreboard and 30-19 in shots.
A full two-minute five-on-three power play at the start of the third period was Toronto’s best opportunity to tighten the score. Sensing this, Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock called a time-out with over 15 minutes remaining. The recalibrated Leafs capitalized on one of the penalties when Tavares brought the Leafs within two goals of tying the game. However, that would be the closest the visitors would ever get in this match.
The Senators once again capped Toronto’s momentum, when Duclair scored his 14th of the season. Lindberg was the last to score with less than six minutes of play remaining. In addition to outscoring their provincial arch rivals by four goals, Ottawa also outshot Toronto 44-37 after 60 minutes of play.
When Thomas Chabot was injured against the Philadelphia Flyers earlier this week, it appeared the Senators blue line had lost its offensive quarterback. Since the All-Star’s injury, Christian Wolanin has shown that is not the case.
The 24-year-old is making most of this opportunity to showcase his offensive abilities. In addition to scoring the game-winning goal against the St. Louis Blues on Thursday, Wolanin earned another point against the Leafs. More importantly, he has earned the confidence of Coach Crawford. No stat shows this better than the 24:29 ice time Wolanin logged against Toronto. In the first period alone, the Quebec City native logged 9:39, playing nearly half the time.t
In addition to earning an assist in this game, Wolanin was also plus-3 and generated four shots on goal, two blocked shots, and a hit. On the season, the offensive defenseman has nine points in 21 games played. This includes four goals and five assists overall, and four points in his last seven games.
For the second straight game, Nilsson has proved himself a difference maker and a key part of the Senators.
Coming off a perfect win against St. Louis, the towering Swedish goalie made some huge saves in big moments on Saturday night versus Toronto. Furthermore, these saves were made against some of the NHL’s most dangerous players, who play on one of the NHL’s best teams. Matthews, Nylander, and Tavares were some of the names of victims who suffered from Nilsson robbery in this game.
After 60 minutes, Nilsson had a 2.00 goals against average along with a .946 save percentage. On the season, he now has 12 wins along with a 2.98 goals-against average and .908 save percentage.
- Christian Jaros and Mark Borowiecki recovered from ailments and returned to Ottawa’s lineup against the Leafs. Consequently, the Senators re-assigned top prospect Erik Brannstrom and Cody Goloubef to their AHL affiliate in Belleville.
- After a great performance in his NHL debut on Thursday against the St. Louis Blues, Senators rookie Max Veronneau was named into Ottawa’s starting line-up. In addition, he earned his first NHL point on Ceci’s opening goal, drew a penalty, had two shots on goal, and a block.
- Ahead of the Canadian national anthem, a moment of silence was held in memory of the 50 Muslim victims who were targeted in the New Zealand terror attacks on Friday.
- The Senators and the Leafs both featured St. Patrick’s Day jerseys during their pre-game warm-up. Although the Senators switched to their traditional red home jerseys for the game, the Leafs wore their special green and white Toronto St. Pats uniforms.
Official 3 Stars of the Game
- Anders Nilsson, Ottawa
- Magnus Paajarvi, Ottawa
- Zack Smith, Ottawa
The Senators fly to Western Canada for their next three games. Along this journey, they will make stops in Vancouver, Calgary, and Edmonton. Up first are the Vancouver Canucks on Mar. 20. In their only other match-up this year, Vancouver defeated Ottawa 4-3 in overtime at Canadian Tire Centre. The Canucks are 29-32-10 and have 68 points. They are ranked 26th in the NHL. With only 11 regular season games remaining, their playoff chances are quickly fading. Vengeance by the Senators on Wednesday could dash all their hope.
Cover Photo Credit: Fred Chartrand / The Canadian Press
Billy Morrison lives in Ottawa and covers the Ottawa Senators for Full Press Coverage. Follow Billy on Twitter, @BillyMorrison01.