Depth players come through when Ottawa needs it most
OTTAWA -- On a night when the Ottawa Senators desperately needed someone, anyone, to step forward, it was the team's foot soldiers that delivered them back into this Stanley Cup finals series.
Reversing the story line of the first two games, the Senators got key physical and offensive performances from their depth players as they cut the Ducks' series lead in half to 2-1 with a 5-3 victory Saturday. Game 4 is set for Monday in Ottawa.
"Obviously, it's only one game," Ottawa coach Bryan Murray said. "But I really like the way we responded."
The Ducks took one-goal leads three times, each time threatening to snuff the life out of the Senators' Stanley Cup dream. Each time, though, the Senators found a way to claw their way back.
They did it on goals by tough guy (and new father) Chris Neil, second-line center Mike Fisher and captain Daniel Alfredsson, on a disputed goal, before fourth-liner Dean McAmmond was credited with the winner on a goal that went in off Anaheim defenseman Chris Pronger.
Defensive defenseman Anton Volchenkov rounded out the scoring midway through the third period in an often testy game whose repercussions may well be felt well into the coming days.
Two minutes into the third period, Pronger dropped McAmmond with a forearm/elbow to the head as McAmmond attempted to go around Pronger in the Anaheim zone. McAmmond fell, his head hitting the ice, and lay motionless near the boards for a number of minutes before being helped off the ice. No penalty was called on the play, but league officials will no doubt review the hit. Pronger, of course, was suspended for one game during the Western Conference finals against Detroit after crushing Tomas Holmstrom against the boards with a high hit to the head. Given that recent transgression, it wouldn't be a surprise if Pronger is suspended once again, even if this hit was not as egregious in and of itself.
"He's known for that. Hopefully they'll call something on it," Neil said.
"It was an elbow to the head," Murray added. "I don't want to say too much because I'll get accused of complaining."
Pronger said he was just finishing his check. "I don't know what happened after that," he said.
The play once again highlighted the thin line the Ducks tread between domination and damnation.
• Ottawa coach Bryan Murray was livid after Chris Pronger's elbow to the head of Dean McAmmond and tried to get an explanation from the on-ice officials.
More from Game 3
"I was trying to talk to the linesmen. But I guess I've been around too long. Nobody listens to me anymore," Murray joked. "I didn't get any explanation."
• The Ottawa Senators, who scored their only two goals of the series heading into Game 3 on the power play, have the third-ranked power-play unit overall in the postseason, yet are inept with the man advantage at home (13th overall). They are now 5-for-45 at home thanks to Daniel Alfredsson's controversial power-play goal late in the second period Saturday.
• Chris Kunitz, who returned to the Ducks lineup after missing seven games with a broken bone in his right hand, played just 4:13 after leaving the game with a lower-body injury. Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said the injury was not related to his hand injury. Kunitz drew the penalty that led to the Ducks' first goal.
-- Scott Burnside
In Games 1 and 2, they used their physical advantage to create scoring chances and maintain puck possession and effectively take the Senators off their game plan. On Saturday, though, the Ducks were outhit and outshot for the first time in the series. They also took eight more minutes in penalties than the Senators. One of those minors, against Ryan Getzlaf, negated a third-period power play and another, a minor penalty for goaltender interference against Andy McDonald, effectively eliminated any chance for a comeback as the Ducks trailed by two goals.
"Obviously, the frustration level showed in our group into the third period," Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said. "But we have to take responsibility for our actions and we played nowhere near our capabilities. And discipline was an issue."
These kinds of games, games of necessity for one team or the other, aren't necessarily pretty, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder when your playoff lives hang in the balance. And so it was that the sight of Neil delivering the Senators' first goal with 3:50 left in the first period fairly brought tears to Murray's eyes.
Neil, who missed practice on Friday to attend the birth of his daughter Hailey, helped disrupt the Ducks all night with his physical play. He sneered at them from the bench and talked trash to them between whistles.
But his goal from the slot off a nice Chris Kelly pass was a seminal moment for a Senators team that had not scored since the 4:36 mark of the second period of Game 1. At the time of Neil's goal, the Senators were already trailing 1-0 thanks to a McDonald power-play goal and straddling their own fine line, the one that separates capitulation and competition.
"It was like a roller-coaster ride, waiting in line, especially at the hospital," Neil said of the past 24 hours. "But my wife is a trooper and it was amazing. I can't say enough. I knew where I had to be. It was amazing. You can't put words behind it. You just watched your baby being born."
Murray took advantage of Neil's emotional readiness for Game 3 and started his line.
"When I went into the room [before the game] I said, 'Nobody should be in the starting lineup other than Chris Neil, but we have to get linemates for him so his line will start tonight,'" Murray quipped. "He really rewarded us with effort, great attitude, and getting the goal was a big bonus for us."
Just as the Ducks had done earlier in the series, the Senators pressured the Anaheim defense deep in their zone, creating turnovers and scoring chances. The pressure was, for the most part, created by the Senators' second, third and fourth lines, lines that had been anonymous through the first two games of the series, but which had been critical to the team's success in earlier rounds.
"When you're playing the Stanley Cup final, there's lots of emotions and a lot of energy that gets expended," Carlyle said. "And tonight, some of their foot soldiers, their lesser -- I don't like to ever call it lesser-known players -- some of their other players stepped up for them and you have to give them credit."
Although much has been made of the lack of production from the Senators' big line of Alfredsson, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza (they were on the ice for Alfredsson's power-play marker), they are still not where they need to be.
For one significant night, though, their teammates made sure it didn't matter.
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com