Between regulation, overtime and shootouts the Canadiens lost thirty-two of their eight-two games this season. Eleven of their thirty-two losses came against teams that ultimately missed the playoffs including three straight to Buffalo, both meetings against Edmonton and a defeat at the hands of the Arizona Coyotes.
But for their history-making late season surge, the Ottawa Senators might have been part of that list of also-rans defeats as well. It’s safe to say the Canadiens treated all four regular season meetings with Ottawa in a casually. Ultimately they paid for it by losing the last three times they faced each other.
Assuredly the Canadiens won’t be taking the Senators lightly in the playoffs but the confidence a young team gained by three straight solid wins, two of them with the sensational Andrew Hammond in goal, could become a determining factor in the eventual outcome.
Bell Centre – December 20th – Canadiens-4 Ottawa-1. The season’s first meeting between the clubs came on the Canadiens 34th game of the season and twelve days after Ottawa head coach Paul MacLean was fired and replaced by his assistant Dave Cameron. Ottawa was playing it’s sixth game in ten nights, the fourth under their new coach. Meanwhile, the Canadiens were wrapping up a nicely spaced five game home stand. Ottawa’s performance was understandable. In victory, the only way to describe the Canadiens effort was “uninspired”. Carey Price gave up a terrible shorthanded goal to Eric Condra three minutes into the game. The Canadiens then answered with four straight. Price, making his ninth consecutive start, stopped 24 of 25. Robin Lehner in goal for the Senators. Galchenyuk was at centre between Pacioretty and Gallagher. They combined for five points. For the Canadiens – Prust, Gallagher, Plekanec and Galchenyuk. Condra for Ottawa.
Canadian Tire Centre – January 15th – Ottawa-4 Canadiens-1. Second of back-to-back games for the Canadiens. The night before Carey Price faced only 16 shotsd in leading the Canadiens to a 3-2 win at Columbus. Dustin Tokarski endured what Michel Therrien was call “the worst first period of the season.” At the end of twenty minutes the Canadiens were outshot 20-6 and trailed 2-1. Ottawa then settled back to successfully protect their lead and the Canadiens didn’t have the energy to reply despite four second period power play advantages. Craig Anderson stopped 25 of 26 shots. It ended a six game road winning streak for the Canadiens. Scoring for Ottawa – Zibanejad, Pageau, Karlsson and Condra (ENG). Pacioretty for the Canadiens.
Canadian Tire Centre – February 18th – Ottawa-4 Canadiens-2. First of back to back games for the Canadiens. Coach Michel Therrien elected to start Dustin Tokarski with Carey Price slated to start the following night at home against Florida. With Lehner and Anderson out with injuries, Andrew Hammond made his NHL debut. This game featured a total breakdown of Canadiens team discipline and allowed themselves to be caught up in a run-and-gun game. Tokarski, getting no help from his teammates, faced 38 shots. At the other end, Hammond stopped 42 of 44 shots. The game featured a total of 83 shots on goal off 132 attempts. Said Therrien afterwards, “It’s not the type of hockey we want to play, especially at this time of the year.” Alexei Emelin left with a shoulder injury twenty seconds into the game. Nathan Beaulieu scored his first NHL goal. Greg Pateryn played in his first game since March 2013. Scoring for Ottawa – Michalek, Pageau, Stone and Turris (ENG). For the Canadiens – Pacioretty and Beaulieu.
Bell Centre – March 12 – Ottawa-5 Canadiens-2. Through the first ten minutes of the game the Canadiens were outshooting Ottawa 8-0 and Max Pacioretty had scored a power play and a shorthanded goal in the span of 2:11. Ottawa then scored five straight goals. With Ottawa leading 3-2 in the third period the Canadiens were awarded their second four-minute power play advantage of the game but could manage only three shots. Karlsson with two goals and an assist. Hammond moves to 8-0-1 through his first nine NHL starts. At that point the Senators were still seven points behind Boston and the final wild card playoff berth. Afterwards P.K. Subban said, “They’re battling for their lives every night. We had to match that intensity.” Goalscorers for Ottawa – Karlsson (2), Condra, Stone and Methot. For the Canadiens – Pacioretty (2).
Following that game the Senators were to finish the season with a 12-2-3 record and wind up seventh in the Eastern Conference. The Canadiens were 8-3-3 following the March 12th loss to Ottawa to finish first in the Atlantic Division and second in the East and the league.
On February 10th the Senators were 14 points behind Boston and the final wildcard berth. Over their final 31 games they were 23-4-4. Hammond was 20-1-2. The Senators late season charge is the greatest since the Islanders came from 12 points back in 1993 with a 20-1-2 run.
Whether Hammond and the Senators can translate this into success in the pressure cooker of playoff hockey is open to question. They can be assured the Canadiens will not make the mistake of underestimating them again.