Are you sick of hearing this in the postseason?—The better team didn’t win the game last night. It happens all the time throughout the year but generally goes unmentioned, because the regular-season sample size is large enough that those things are generally supposed to work themselves out over time. But in the playoffs these anomalies stand out, because in a best-of-seven series—or even more acutely, in Thursday’s Game 7 in Pittsburgh—there’s little to no time for regression to the mean. Every single time, the Senators will take a game like Tuesday’s, getting outplayed and getting the win.
Ottawa’s 2-1 home win came with the ice tilted against them. The Penguins outshot the Senators 46-30, and led 75-46 on shot attempts. You can look at the result two ways. The Pens, naturally, say that if they play the same way they did last night, they’ll win tomorrow. (They’re probably right.) The Sens say that if Craig Anderson plays like that again, they’ll win and go to the Stanley Cup Final. (They’re also probably right!)
Anderson was a beast in making 45 saves, including 22 in the second period alone. He made a number of especially sharp stops on Sidney Crosby (who is pretty much looking like his old self again, by the way).
Anderson probably hasn’t gotten enough credit in this playoff run, with most of the focus on Guy Boucher’s effective defensive system. But if Anderson is the biggest reason there’ll be a Game 7, he’s also the only reason Boucher is here in the first place.
“If I didn’t have a No. 1 goalie, I didn’t want the job,” Boucher said. “It’s hell when you don’t have it because everything you do turns to darkness and there’s nothing that really matters when you don’t have a real No. 1 goaltender. That was one of the biggest reasons why this job for me was appealing. It wasn’t just an NHL job. You don’t want an NHL job; you want a job where you have a chance.”
Anderson certainly gives the Sens a chance, and more than that, he drives a style of play. As Boucher noted, everything “starts with the goalie.” Forward Zack Smith said knowing Anderson is back there has knock-on effects all the way up the ice.
“It gives us so much confidence just handling the puck,” Smith said. “If you’re out there and afraid to make mistakes, turn the puck over, it’s a tough way to play and you grip your stick too tight. If he’s going to bail you out back there you can play—and I’ll choose my words wisely—a little more loose in that regard.”
Anderson’s performance was even more impressive for coming on the heels of an awful Game 5, in which he was pulled after allowing four goals on 14 shots. But the 36-year-old, who proudly credits his career success to seeing a sports psychologist, and who missed large parts of this season to be with his wife as she underwent treatments for a rare form of cancer, has earned hard-won perspective and the ability to leave things behind. “The moment I got yanked in that game, it’s gone,” Anderson said. “You can’t change what’s happened in the past.”
All context and records will be shed for Game 7, the players bringing only the baggage they choose. Just 60 minutes—or more!—with the East on the line. If someone’s going to step up and do an outsized part to win a game and the series and the conference, it’s more than likely going to be a goaltender. And if it is, the Senators have to like their chances.