Compared to their showdown just under a week ago, Wednesday night’s affair between the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens was low on stress. The Canadiens had reeled off three straight victories over the Winnipeg Jets, the Senators, and finally the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday night, all but securing their playoff berth. Of course in the last two wins the Canadiens thrilled the entire fanbase as Cole Caufield scored the overtime game-winners against two of the club’s most hated rivals.
On Wednesday night, it was all about keeping the good habits going as Montreal’s sudden epiphany last week had turned the entire look of the team around. Offensively they were creating plenty of good chances, and defensively they were moving the puck with tenacity. With nothing left to play for, the Senators still presented a pesky challenge, who again turned to Jake Allen to bring them one step closer to the playoffs.
Through the opening minutes, the Canadiens patiently controlled the flow of the game, probing for timely attacks on Anton Forsberg’s net. Perhaps none was better than Nick Suzuki’s as he worked the puck below the goal line to tee up a one-time opportunity that Forsberg swallowed up.
Despite the Canadiens controlling the pace, it was Ottawa that struck first just past the midway point. Artem Zub let his shot fly from the blue line and Allen made the initial stop, but the rebound landed right in front of Shane Pinto, who slammed the rebound home to open the scoring for the Senators.
Allen proceeded to give every Montreal player, coach, and fan a heart attack. A long stretch pass just missed its intended target from the Ottawa defensive zone. Allen left his crease to play the puck, and his clearing attempt landed right on the stick of Chris Tierney. The Sens forward fired it towards a wide-open net, only for a diving Allen to block the shot and save what should have been a goal.
Montreal refused to leave the opening period without a goal, and after Tyler Toffoli was robbed by the glove of Anton Forsberg, they found it. Nick Suzuki won the draw back to Joel Edmundson, who left the puck for Toffoli. The Montreal winger worked the puck back along the blue line, drawing all the Senator eyes. With the entire left side of the zone opened up, Edmundson crept his way into the faceoff circle, where Toffoli found him. The defenceman wasted no time, snapping a shot short-side to tie the game, and send the teams into the first intermission tied at one goal apiece.
The Habs didn’t get off to the best of starts in the second period as Josh Anderson got his skates crossed with Colin White, earning a two minute call for tripping. Montreal did well to kill off Anderson’s minor, with Allen making a handful of strong saves.
Right after the kill it was the Senators again taking advantage of a lax Montreal defence in front of Allen. Josh Norris won the puck behind the net, managing to chip it to Brady Tkachuk in front, and the Sens forward was all alone as he tucked it by Allen’s pad to put Ottawa up by a goal once again.
From there Montreal went on to put together arguably their worst period of the season, finding it nearly impossible to clear their zone or mount any sort of counter-offensive. Allen kept the deficit at one for much of the period, with a little help from his posts, but in the dying seconds the Canadiens allowed what a back-breaking goal. A blind backhand clear up to boards ended up on Erik Brännström’s stick, the rookie defender snapped a quick shot on net, and Nick Paul got just enough of it to deflect it in to double Ottawa’s lead. Trailing by two goals, the Canadiens were going to need another huge third period push to earn at least a point in the nation’s capital.
To the Habs’ credit, they started the third much better than the second, hammering repeated chances on Forsberg, but the Senators goalie continued to stand tall in the face of Montreal’s attack. Then, the Canadiens gave the Senators a fourth goal by losing all sense of defensive awareness. The puck cycled around the net and Ben Chiarot wandered away from his post on the right side of the zone. In that same timeframe, Connor Brown slipped in and easily fired a one-timer past Allen to put the game further out of reach.
The Habs had a chances with the game at four-on-four to cut into the Ottawa lead, but Cole Caufield was denied on the doorstep. Then, as had been the case all night, the Senators used their speed to burn the Montreal defence, and Alex Formenton scored his team’s fifth goal with half the period left to play.
A late power play amounted to nothing as the Canadiens saw their three-game winning streak come to an end, wrapping up the season series with the series with a 5-1 loss.
There’s little time to rest as Montreal heads to Toronto to face the Maple Leafs, where they’ll be joined once again by Carey Price. It’s unclear who will start in net as Price’s status is uncertain, but if he’s cleared from his concussion he could be the one between the pipes.