Thursday, April 27, 2006

Bolts on the Brink

It was a second period explosion that spelled the doom for the Tampa Bay Lightning, as the Ottawa Senators picked up two goals late in the second within fourty seconds of each other, sending the Bolts reeling to the dressing room.

It was a solid three periods of hockey for the Senators, who controlled the play for most of the game. The game once again showcased the return of Martin Havlat to the line up, Havlat who has scored in four straight games now, continued to be a force while on the ice. His assist on the Dany Heatley goal in the second, is the thing of highlight reels a wonderful pass that set Heatley up for the all important goal that broke the back of Tampa Bay.

The only flaw in the Senators game is a sudden inability at times to clear their zone; they sometimes give up the puck to Tampa Bay deep in their own end, a situation which provides the Lightning with too many scoring opportunities and tests Ray Emery more than he really should be.

Emery however seems up to the occasional challenge provided by the defensive miscues; he once again rose to the occasion on Thursday stopping 30 of the 32 Tampa Bay shots. John Grahame in the Tampa net was not quite as successful, giving up 4 goals in 17 shots before being replaced by Sean Burke late in the game.

Grahame’s Goals against was a sore point with John Tortorella in the post game press conference, as the Tampa coach expressed frustration with what he called the “25 per cent rule”. Tortorella expressed disappointment with the inability of Grahame to make the big saves when the time comes to bail his team out. It’s unusual for a coach to blast his players publicly when they are in such a dire situation, but perhaps feeling he has nothing to lose the Tampa coach, told it like he saw it and then announced that Sean Burke would start in game five in Ottawa on Saturday night.

While it might be easy to pick on Grahame, Tortorella might have saved some of his vitriol for the rather sad state of the Tampa Bay defence, they were beaten to the puck in their own end time after time, left players such as Heatley, Havlat, Spezza and Alfredsson frequently open in front of the net and found themselves out played in their own end for most of the night. One doesn’t see Burke having a much different outcome on Saturday unless those miscues are addressed and quickly.

The Sens who seem to be shaking off the first round jitters of past years looked quite comfortable and in control as the third period progressed on their way to the 5-2 victory. Aware that they can put the Bolts away with a win Saturday, expect a fast paced and hard hitting game at Scotiabank Place.

With a 3-1 lead in the series the Sens can see the next round just over the horizon, while they don’t want to get caught looking ahead. Keeping to their game plan from Thursday night will go a long way to moving them on to round two on Saturday.

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