SASKATOON, Sask. – Ty Rattie could have iced it, but instead the final few minutes became more interesting in the MasterCard Memorial Cup semifinal.
With the Portland Winterhawks leading the London Knights 2-1 late in the game, Rattie’s shot at the empty net hit Knights forward Seth Griffith. What ensued was a tense, pressure-filled final minute and a half where the Knights pressed, but weren’t able to find the equalizer.
"Rattie mentioned he wanted to keep the TV ratings high, so he kept it 2-1 instead of hitting the empty net," Winterhawks head coach Travis Green joked.
The Knights had many chances in the final 90 seconds to tie the game and send it to overtime as Portland won 2-1. Bo Horvat, who provided the late-game heroics in Game 7 of the Ontario Hockey League final, was stopped twice by Winterhawks goalie Mac Carruth. Max Domi also had a chance in tight, but his stick broke as he snapped the shot.
"You play with bounces like that and sometimes they go your way and sometimes they don’t," Domi said. "That case in particular, it didn’t go our way."
Despite missing an opportunity to score the insurance marker, Rattie wound up scoring the game-winner midway through the third period. Rattie curled out from the left boards and fired a shot over Knights goalie Jake Patterson’s right shoulder.
"I know he’s a smaller goalie so I tried to get it up high and lucky enough it went in," Rattie said.
It’s another tough ending for the Knights, who saw their MasterCard Memorial Cup dreams come to an end in overtime in last year’s championship final.
"Regardless of if you lose in overtime in the finals or you lose 2-1 in the semis, you don’t get the result you want," Knights captain Scott Harrington said. "It’s no easier to swallow this year."
Why the Winterhawks won: The Winterhawks received a solid effort from overage goalie Carruth. He made some critical stops in the final few minutes, but also kept his team in it early when the Knights held most of the momentum in the first period.
"He’s been unbelievable," defenceman Seth Jones said. "He’s been there when we really needed him."
The Knights played their traditional cycle and trap game and it created several turnovers in the early going. Green said before the game his team would need to remain patient against the Knights, who don’t give their opposition much. The Winterhawks eventually broke through by altering their attack slightly.
"I thought we wore them down a little bit in the last 10 minutes of the second period where you could see some of their guys were getting a little bit tired off the cycle," Green said. "We were real good down low in their end and started to get some chances, started to simplify our game a little bit. We started to put pucks to the net. I thought we were too fancy early in the game, but that’s the way our team plays. We want to make plays, but it’s a fine line."
"I don’t know if I’ve ever played a team like that," Rattie added. "You just have to chip it in deep and I know for my line, we don’t do that a whole lot and we had to adjust our game, get it in deep and get it on the fore-check. Once we figured that out, we liked our game and came away with the win."
Why the Knights lost: The Knights can’t help but feel like there were opportunities missed. Their first period flurry created many chances, but no goals. London can be a different team when they get the first goal, which they did in the second period, but the opportunity existed earlier.
"I think if we buried on some chances it would have been a different game," Knights forward Alex Broadhurst said.
"We had some real good chances and bounces didn’t go our way," Harrington said. "A couple broken sticks on great opportunities to score. We understand that’s the way it goes and sometimes you don’t get the bounces."
Player of the Game: The much-maligned Carruth stopped 34 of 35 shots he faced en route to the victory. After a disappointing first game of the tournament, where he was shelled for seven goals in the team’s opening game loss to Halifax, Carruth made the big saves to preserve the lead.
"Pucks just seemed to hit me," he said. "The first game they didn’t, today they did."
"I thought it was his best game of the tournament," Green said. "Obviously, just a great performance by a guy we’ve leaned on for a long time now. It doesn’t surprise us. He came up big for us tonight."
Unsung hero: Derrick Pouliot made a nice pinch on Rattie’s goal to keep the play in the Knights’ zone. He then made the pass to Rattie, who scored the decisive goal.
Perhaps even more important was his defensive play. Pouliot twice tied up a man with a stick-check to stop them from getting a shot away with Carruth at their mercy, preventing sure goals. Both plays were when the Winterhawks led 2-1 and the Knights were pressing.
"Pouliot was a rock all game, he was our best defenceman," Rattie said.
"He’s been dynamite for us all year," Jones added.
Game changer: Rattie’s goal at 8:32 of the third period put the Winterhawks into Sunday’s final. He made a different move than on two earlier goals in the tournament, opting instead to shoot rather than trying to do his patented delay move to create space and time.
"Something a little different," Rattie said. "I’m not going to get by Harrington again and I know I’m not going to get by (Olli) Maatta again so I have to do something different and I don’t think you’ll see that move any time soon."
Quote of the day: For some of the Knights players, they know they will have a chance at redemption again next year, when the team hosts the MasterCard Memorial Cup. That knowledge, however, doesn’t soften the blow from coming up short for the second year in a row.
"It’s tough to lose like that," Domi said. "It sucks. It really does suck. We really wanted to end on a better note like we did last year and it’s tough. We’re just kind of soaking it in now and looking forward to next year, though."
PITTSBURGH – The Ottawa Senators spent the entire lockout-shortened season defying the odds, but they had absolutely no answer for the juggernaut known as the Pittsburgh Penguins.
This was complete and total dominance.
Resignation hung heavy in the air even before James Neal scored for a third time on Friday night and the hats came flying out of the stands like a joyous snowstorm at Consol Energy Center.
From the drop of the puck in Game 1 through to the final buzzer in Game 5, the Pens attacked in wave after impressive wave. It seemed like they were in control of the puck the entire series.
Eventually, the pesky Sens had been worn down to pulp.
“We’re playing probably the best team in the league, and we’re trying and trying, but we have to pay for every little mistake,” Ottawa defenceman Erik Karlsson said after the series-ending 6-2 loss. “That’s why they are where they are, and we’re standing here.”
Added Sens coach Paul MacLean: “I hope they don’t bill us for the clinic.”
It was textbook hockey.
And with the Penguins now halfway home to the Stanley Cup, it’s worth pondering who might stop them. They’ll certainly be favoured in the Eastern Conference final whether they face the Bruins or Rangers.
“I’ve never played against a team like that before,” Senators defenceman Marc Methot said. “The closest I could think to that in terms of having dangerous players maybe when I was in the playoffs (with Columbus) against Detroit in 2008.”
Of course, that Red Wings squad went on to win a championship.
The biggest thing Ottawa noticed during this second-round series was that beyond all of the big names on the backs of the Penguins sweaters is that they played as one. This is what happens when you take Crosby and Malkin and Neal and Letang and Iginla and get everyone on the same page.
“Just because you have star players doesn’t mean you’re going to win,” said Senators goalie Craig Anderson, who spent the series under siege. “It’s how you come together and play as a team. They’re well-coached over there and they work well together.
“Everyone’s pulling in the same direction on that team and it shows.”
How many ways can we measure the quality of Pittsburgh’s play this post-season?
Try at least four goals in nine of 11 games so far and 12 more in total than any other team in the league. Special teams? They are first on the power play and third on the penalty kill.
Even Tomas Vokoun, Pittsburgh’s one-time backup goalie, has a stellar .941 save percentage in these playoffs and has won 16 of his last 18 starts dating back to the regular season.
“We played a better team and sometimes there’s not much you can do,” Karlsson said.
In a solemn Sens dressing room after Game 4 in Ottawa, Methot told sportsnet.ca that “we’re up against a monster here.” Boy was he right. Ditto for captain Daniel Alfredsson, who said it was “probably not” feasible to beat the Penguins three straight times.
Can anyone take four of seven from them?
Neal scored five goals in the final two games of this series as the second line took a turn carrying the offensive freight. Earlier, it had been a hat trick from top-line centre Sidney Crosby that helped Pittsburgh get a jump on Ottawa.
And it was the fourth unit – which looks like an embarrassment of riches with both Brenden Morrow and Jussi Jokinen on it – that opened the scoring in Game 5 when Morrow charged hard to the net and redirected the puck behind Anderson.
The Penguins never let up.
“From the forwards out we’re wearing teams down with our speed and our physical play and it shows,” Neal said. “If we continue to do that we’re going to be a tough team.”
There is almost a toying element about them.
Ottawa was allowed the briefest bit of hope in the latter half of the second period on Friday night after Milan Michalek scored to make it 3-1 and Colin Greening had a chance from in close. However, he couldn’t lift a shot over Vokoun’s pad and the puck was cleared from the zone.
The next thing you know Jean-Gabriel Pageau was turning it over in the neutral zone and Neal was finding a streaking Malkin for a breakaway.
Penguins 4, Senators 1.
“Once you give a team a lead like that, they step on your throat,” Methot said.
Added Alfredsson, who may have played his last NHL game: “We weren’t able to slow them down enough to stop them from scoring.”
The final 20 minutes ticked away relatively quietly – save for Chris Neil getting into it with Douglas Murray – and by the time James Neal finished off his hat trick the Penguins could start looking ahead to a couple of well-earned days off.
A few fans in the upper reaches of Consol Energy Center, which witnessed its first series-clinching game since the doors opened in 2010, took to chanting “We Want The Cup! We Want The Cup!”
They just might get it.
“They really had us on our heels for almost every game,” MacLean said. “I think we really got a little bit of a lesson of what it really takes to continue to play in the Stanley Cup playoffs from a very good team.”
Ottawa had a good season, a surprising season, and saw first-hand how much more it will have to grow before truly chasing a championship.
The Penguins received a bit of a scare in a six-game, first-round series against the New York Islanders and now look like they’re just warming up after learning some lessons of their own.
“I think our desperation is there,” Crosby said. “We found out pretty quickly that it’s not that enjoyable to play in your own end a lot. We had times, especially in the first round, where it took away from our offence because we were having to play in our own end.
“I think the more diligent we are there, the more opportunities we’re going to get offensively and that’s a lot more of the game we want to play.”
The other NHL teams still with a pulse have almost certainly taken note.
Saturday’s event is one of the most stacked shows the organization has put together, with many matchups that simply are not getting the credit they deserve. For yours truly, I can’t wait to sit down and watch this show, for each and every scrap has many angles that I will be paying close attention to.
Here are my reasons to watch them all:
Cain Velasquez vs. Antonio (Bigfoot) Silva
Can Cain actually defend the title? Can Bigfoot silence the same critics who said he had no chance at defeating Alistair Overeem and are giving him no shot at defeating the champ in the rematch?
Junior dos Santos vs. Mark Hunt
Will JDS really stand and trade with Hunt, or will we finally see some of his ground work in the cage? Can Hunt’s incredible story continue in the Octagon and, if he wins, will he get at title shot? And if JDS and both Silva win, how will that potential bout go down, between two friends who deeply respect one another?
Glover Teixeira vs. James Te Huna
Can Glover maintain his ranking against an opponent who all week has been smiling ear to ear at the prospect of taking on a man who Mauricio (Shogun) Rua and Rashad Evans turned down? Heck, James told me he asked for this fight — and no one asks for fights versus Teixeira, a light-heavyweight who many believe is destined for a title shot in the very near future.
Gray Maynard vs. TJ Grant
Can the blue collar Cole Harbour, N.S., native actually pull off the victory and join the likes of fellow Canadians Georges St-Pierre, David Loiseau, Mark Hominick, Patrick Cote and Carlos Newton at getting a chance at championship glory? And if he wins, what will lightweight champion Ben Henderson have to say about Grant.
Donald Cerrone vs. KJ Noons
Will the star that is the “Cowboy” shine once again or will KJ prove he is one of the sport’s elite lightweights?
By far, these are the very best prelims that will air on Sportsnet. In my opinion I don’t think the UFC will be able to duplicate these four stellar matchups that are not getting the love they should.
Mike Pyle vs. Rick Story
Only one of these welterweights will remain relevant, while the other will have to take some serious stock of their MMA career. It won’t be over for the loser, but hard times will be ahead for he who does not emerge victorious.
Dennis Bermudez vs. Max Holloway
Two young, hungry featherweights, each with a propensity to steal the show with their intense style. But only one will take that big step closer to top-ten contention in a division that is slowly beginning to show its depth.
Colton Smith vs. Robert Whittaker
Two TUF winners set to tangle in Smith’s home country. And if the 22-year-old Australian looks anywhere like he did in the TUF Smashes finale, the North American MMA fan base could see the birth of a new threat at 170 pounds.
Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Abel Trujillo
If this lightweight bout doesn’t win Fight of the Night, I will be shocked. This has destruction written all over it. I can’t see both guys emerging injury free after their shared time inside the Octagon.
Stephen Thompson vs. Nah-Shon Burrell
There is a lot of pressure on “The Wonderboy” who was pegged as a serious prospect at 170 pounds. But his last bout against Matt Brown, over 13 months ago, halted the hype train, which was subsequently met with a knee injury to the sport’s most technical and prolific kicker. How will his knee hold up, while he also deals with ring rust? And can Burrell begin his own run at welterweight?
Brian Bowles vs. George Roop
The former WEC bantamweight champ Bowles is still a legit threat in the division, but how will he deal with Roop’s reach and length. This one is pegged to be a fun bout and one that could see someone go to sleep at any point within the allotted fifteen minutes.
Jeremy Stephens vs. Estevan Payan
This will be Stephens’ featherweight debut and it’s an all or nothing fight for “Lil Heathen.” He’s on a three-fight losing streak, albeit to names like Anthony Pettis, Donald Cerrone and Yves Edwards, but a fourth defeat could see a pink slip from his employer. All the pressure is on him, while Payan can add a serious name to his growing resume of victims.
It’s safe to say that I will be tweeting throughout the event, but if I mysteriously disappear, I hope you can understand why. #Excited