Senators stick together to save win
Late-game penalty kill against Leafs a huge confidence boost for team
|Chris Campoli and the Senators wouldn't deny themselves a chance to celebrate a victory over Jason Blake and Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday night (Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).
Here were the Ottawa Senators, just 2:16 away from vanquishing their most bitter rivals at Scotiabank Place on Monday night when centre Jason Spezza was slapped with a rare illegal stick penalty and banished to the penalty box. Soon enough, it would become a two-man advantage for the Toronto Maple Leafs when goaltender Curtis Joseph was pulled for an extra attacker.
Given the type of season they've endured, overtime might have seemed inevitable at that point.
But rather than surrender a tying goal, the Senators fought doggedly on the penalty kill to preserve a 2-1 triumph over the Leafs. And while much of the chatter on the morning after centred around the stick measurement that burned Spezza, his team's head coach sensed something much greater than the two points that were gained.
"I like the fact that we had to kill a penalty in the last two minutes of a game to win that game," Cory Clouston said after the Senators worked out at the Bell Sensplex earlier today. "Our penalty kill has been struggling as of late, so it was a great confidence booster. It gives our guys more confidence, it gives (goaltender) Brian Elliott more confidence.
"What's been our weakest point the last four or five games actually won us the game. If we would have been scored upon, I wouldn't have liked that we had to kill one in the last two minutes but the fact that we had to kill a penalty to preserve a win was a great way to end that game."
The Senators still had a bounce in their step about it all a day later.
"Jason's a great player. He is one of our best players and we rely on him a lot," said defenceman Chris Campoli. "He's there every night for guys and, as a team, we picked him up when he needed us to and that's a sign of a good team, when you've got each other's backs.
"You go out there and you know that if one guy goes down or makes a mistake, we're going to bounce back and pick him up."
That group might soon regain the services of one its true warriors. Forward Chris Neil, who's been sidelined since Feb. 7 with a lacerated right calf, took part in a full practice with the team today. While Clouston said chances are "very slight" that Neil will line up against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday night at Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., TSN, Team 1200), the rugged forward is expected back by week's end.
"Each day is kind of a wait-and-see process," said Clouston. "You push (Neil) a little further. He might play as soon as the Thursday game (in Boston) but if not, we're pretty optimistic he'll be playing by Saturday (in Pittsburgh).
"I don't think it's fair to have him basically go through one practice and throw him into the lineup. He's been out for a long time. He needs to get his timing and his confidence (back) to allow him to be effective when he gets on the ice."
Around the boards
Defenceman Filip Kuba remains weakened by the flu and Clouston termed his status "questionable" for Wednesday's game against the Lightning ... Spezza is one point shy of the 400-point plateau for his National Hockey League career ... Fewer than 1,500 tickets are left for Wednesday's visit by the Bolts, the finale of an eight-game homestand at Scotiabank Place.