According to post-game lore, Chris Neil’s feisty presence provided the spark that breathed new life into the Senators’ playoff chances.
But in reality it was Ottawa’s best players who pushed the club to within one win of a long-awaited Eastern Conference final berth.
“Our top guns definitely took the bull by the horns and contributed in all kinds of ways,” head coach Guy Boucher said.
Start with Erik Karlsson, the team captain who exited Game 4 after 40 minutes in obvious discomfort and played the first round with two hairline fractures in his left foot. The 26-year-old posted three assists and 12 shot attempts while leading all players with more than 31 minutes in the Senators’ 5-4 overtime win Game 5.
Ottawa had control of the puck 68 per cent of the time at even-strength when he was on the ice.
Karlsson played all but one minute and two seconds of the final six and a half minutes of regulation, meanwhile, firing the cross-ice feed which eventually led to Derick Brassard’s game-tying goal with 86 ticks left. He then fired the bullet pass out of the defensive zone which led to Kyle Turris’ game-winner.
The Swede has a team-leading 11 points in 11 games this spring.
Boucher thought the team’s decision to hold Karlsson out for the third period of a 4-1 loss two nights earlier had paid off. Not only did Karlsson save his energy, but his injury wasn’t allowed to get worse in an obvious defeat.
‘That was our horse tonight’
Then there was Turris.
His shot between Henrik Lundqvist’s pads capped the victory six-plus minutes into overtime. The B.C. native also dished out nine hits in almost 25 minutes (tops among forwards), fired nine attempts on goal and won 65 per cent of his 23 draws. He finished with a puck possession mark of 57 per cent despite matching up most against Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh.
“I guess that was our horse tonight,” Boucher said with a nod to the Kentucky Derby. “Definitely somebody who came out with the max character and…