Saturday, March 31, 2012

Sens steal point, dignity in matinee decision over Flyers

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor

Jason Spezza notched the winner in the shootout, allowing Ottawa to escape with some dignity courtesy of a 4-3 victory over the Flyers in Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon.

He provided the difference to end the second round, skating in full bore on Sergei Bobrovsky, then sliding a low, hard shot off the base of the right post and in.

Craig Anderson wrapped up the game by closing off the right post to squash Danny Briere's attempt.

It was a shame for the way Briere played, notching a pair of assists and turning his shifts in overtime into his own personal chess match with the Ottawa defense and Anderson. It was his rush between two players as time ticked down to less than a minute in the extra session, the latter of whom -- Filip Kuba -- committed a hooking infraction with 48.6 seconds to play, which allowed the hosts one last burst of energy to try and close out their conference rivals.

"As it got later, we had a ton of chances to win it. We could have scored four or five goals there in overtime," said a dour Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette. "It just didn't drop."

But Anderson held the fort as the Orange and Black buzzed around him, then watched as his forwards won the breakaway contest.

Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and Chris Neil tallied in regulation for the Sens, who looked foolish in squandering a 3-0 first-period lead but walked away with an extra point and took a four-point lead on eighth-place Washington.

Anderson, who had to hang on for dear life at times down the stretch, finished with 36 saves, while his counterpart Bobrovsky stopped 26 shots.

"Our team did a good job of being resilient and showing a little character and coming back," Senators coach Paul MacLean said.

Wayne Simmonds, Sean Couturier and Braydon Coburn found the net for the Flyers, who came to life over the final 40 minutes and stole a point which brought them within three of fourth-place Pittsburgh heading for a Sunday matinee showdown at CONSOL Energy Center.

While the opening 20 minutes painted a bleak picture which showed the Flyers hanging on for dear life down 3-0, the stats and the flow told a different story. Philly claimed a 15-12 edge in shots and had the best chances of the stanza.

Anderson was sharp to turn away Claude Giroux on a shorthanded breakaway roughly eight minutes in, as Matt Read sat for a tripping infraction, and then he stayed with the play as Jaromir Jagr fired two chances from in close during a 4-on-4 after Kuba was caught flipping the puck out of play following the Giroux opportunity.

It was after that when the wheels fell off.

Already ahead 1-0 thanks to an Alfredsson-to-Spezza connection, Ottawa tallied twice more, within a three-minute span, to take a commanding lead.

On the visitors' second goal, Erik Karlsson alertly dished to Alfredsson at the opposite point, and his blast appeared to deflect off a body in front and dip low inside the right post at the 11:39 mark.

Then, the only score of the game on Bobrovsky's ledger happened. Rob Klinkhammer intercepted a clearing attempt and sent the puck into the left corner. Neil picked it up, pivoted away from a checker, then fired from the top of the left circle. The puck trickled through between Bobrovsky's arm and body for a 3-0 game at 14:27.

Shocked to life, the hosts countered in the second period with three of their own.

It started just shy of the three-minute mark. Brayden Schenn deked his way into the Senators' zone before ripping a wrister from between the circles. The shot deflected up the stick of Ottawa defender Chris Phillips's stick, hit Simmonds in the face, and caromed in.

Schenn didn't even have time to celebrate before attending to his stricken teammate, who was taken to the locker room for evaluation. Simmonds, who netted his 26th of the year the hard way, needed seven stitches to close a gash that snaked above his right eyebrow down to the side of his nose.

"I saw it coming but there's not much I could do," said Simmonds, who wore a visor for his first three NHL seasons with the Kings but has not worn one yet this year. "I was just trying to take position for the shot and it was deflected off me."

The deficit was trimmed to one at 14:38 on another unexpected gift. Couturier blew by Sergei Gonchar on the left wing, cut in, and dribbled a shot through the crease, which rolled on edge to the right pipe and appeared to cross the goal line a fraction of a second ahead of Kuba lifting the net off its peg.

Though the score was initially waved off, a lengthy conference with the war room in Toronto was able to reverse the call, and it was 3-2.

Coburn produced the tying score, but it came thanks to good puck movement from Briere. Eric Wellwood gained control of the disc at the right point and fed ahead to Briere, who was able to move right onto the doorstep, waiting just long enough for his defenseman to sneak in. Anderson got his glove on the shot, but it still rolled over the goal line with 5:22 remaining in the second.

The comeback was desperately needed, as Kyle Turris was allowed to separate 30 feet ahead of the pack early in the third before being turned away by Bobrovsky. It was one of just five third-period Senators shots in a plodding final period which saw nine combined shots.

Two of the other four came with 1:20 remaining, when Spezza faced a half-open net only to push the puck into Bobrovsky's right pad twice in a row.

"We deserved a lot better than being down 3-0. For us, it was about sticking to the plan and things were going to fall into place," Briere said. "After making that comeback for the whole second period, we sat back too much in the third period. It's something in our game I'd like to find a way to change."

In the shootout, Read opened up by non-chalantly put one by Anderson, but Giroux tried to turn his back completely away from Anderson before lifting his chance well over the net.

Notes: Ottawa improved to 6-4 in the shootout and Philadelphia fell to 4-7 this season...Coming, in the Flyers had won seven of their last nine home games against Ottawa since January of 2008...The clubs split the four-game season series with both teams winning once at home and once on the road...Philly claimed a 17-14 goal differential...Pelle Eklund (1985-94), drafted by the Flyers in 1983, was in attendance...The Orange and Black fell to 5-10-3 this season in games starting before 7 PM...Couturier snapped an eight-game goal drought...After not scoring since March 4, Neil has notched goals in back-to-back games for the first time since January 8-10...Briere has nine points (2G, 7A) in the last four games...Alfredsson's two-point effort gave him 46 points (15G, 31A) in 52 career games against Philadelphia.
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