Ottawa's Erik Karlsson celebrates his second period goal against the Canadiens in Game 5 Friday in Montreal. (Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
The Ottawa Senators were on the verge of being swept after last Sunday's Game 3 Canadiens win, but with standout performances from veteran goalie Craig Anderson and big contributions from Bobby Ryan and Erik Karlsson in Game 5, the Sens avoided elimination again with a 5-1 win Friday and made the series 3-2 for the Habs. This thing is far from over.
This is starting to get interesting.
Thanks to the Senators' convincing 5-1 win over the Canadiens in Game 5 Friday, the first-round series between Montreal and Ottawa that was on the verge Sunday of being a Habs sweep is now very much a battle that could end with either side emerging victorious. Sure, it was clearly an off-night for Canadiens star goalie Carey Price, who allowed five goals on 25 shots; and sure, Montreal dominated the shot-counter, outshooting the Sens 46-25. But Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson was once again superb between the pipes, and the Senators got big contributions from some their two highest-paid players – Bobby Ryan had a pair of goals, and superstar defenseman Erik Karlsson added his first goal of the 2015 post-season – to beat the Habs in Montreal, something they couldn't do in Games 1 or 2.
So now we have a Game 6, early Sunday evening before what promises to be a delirious crowd of Sens fans at Canadian Tire Centre. And if Ottawa can manage to pull off their third straight win, we'll have a seventh and deciding showdown back at the Bell Centre. And anyone who has been following the Sens since they began their miraculous drive from the basement of the league to a playoff spot should see the way this series is playing out as a perfect representation of what GM Bryan Murray's team is all about: they don't take the easy route to success, but they also don't quit in the face of long odds and the brink of failure.
Certainly, Senators fans have to be thanking head coach Dave Cameron for his decision to go with Anderson after Andrew "The Hamburglar" Hammond allowed a combined seven goals in Games 1 and 2. The 33-year-old was temporarily knocked out of the starting role, first by injury and then by Hammond's inspired play. But when there was a levelling-out in Hammond's play, Anderson has done exactly what he was supposed to do: kept his cool until the opportunity came, then seized on it. He's now stopped 120 of 123 shots he's seen in the post-season for a .976 save percentage, and it was apparent in everything he did in Game 5 that Anderson is in a zone from which the Sens hope he never emerges.
Montreal threw everything it could at Anderson, and only Tom Gilbert was able to beat him with an early third-period goal that cut Ottawa's lead to 3-1. And although the Habs did a number of good things, including forcing the Senators into 18 turnovers while committing just eight giveaways of their own, the Canadiens were getting a taste of their own medicine in running headfirst into a goalie who looks like he's got a hidden tractor beam focused on the puck. And their top-end stars aren't coming through on the scoresheet when the team needs them most: Tomas Plekanec hasn't scored since Game 1 on April 15, and Max Pacioretty, Alex Galchenyuk and P.K. Subban haven't registered a single point since Game 2. They can't keep turning to the likes of Dale Weise to win this series. If one of their bigger names doesn't step up in the next two games, it's no longer a fantasy to picture Anderson stealing the show the rest of the way. It's a very real possibility.
The Senators are going to approach Game 6 as free and easy as they did in Games 4 and 5. The pressure now is squarely on the Canadiens to solve Anderson and re-ignite their offense. And they're going into enemy territory to avoid an even heightened sense of pressure that would accompany a Game 7.
Canadiens fans would disagree, but this sure is more fun than a series sweep.