Just over two weeks ago, the Ottawa Senators pulled off a miraculous third period comeback against the New York Islanders.
Trailing 3-1 entering the final frame, Ottawa scored four times in a short span to rally back for a 5-3 victory in Long Island.
It was a vintage “Pesky Sens” victory – the moniker that has come to identify this team over the last 18 months. That win was such a trademark victory that Chris Phillips walked off the ice that night in Long Island and told me, “Make sure you hashtag that one Pesky Sens.”
So the question is: Where have those Pesky Sens been lately?
Instead of hanging around games, staging improbable comebacks and clawing out points, the Senators have been doing just the opposite these days. In fact, they may want to start hashtagging it "Sloppy Sens" the way they've been playing.
Consider the following third period issues this team has endured since beating the Islanders on Mar. 19:
Mar. 21 vs. BOS - Game tied 1-1 with 64 seconds left, but they allow a Dennis Seidenberg goal to give Boston the win.
Mar. 23 vs. TB - Ahead 4-0 in the third period, the Senators allow Tampa to score three goals and cut the lead to 4-3.
Mar. 25 vs. NJ - Leading 2-1 in the third period, the Sens allow the Devils to take a point when they tied the game.
Apr. 2 @ BOS - With the score tied 2-2, Nathan Horton scores in the second half of the 3rd period to give the Bruins a 3-2 win.
Apr. 5 @ BUF - Ottawa was leading 2-1 in the 3rd period before allowing three goals - including two in 12 seconds - in a 4-2 loss.
Apr. 7 @ FLA - With the game tied 1-1, the Sens allow a power-play goal to Dmitri Kulikov with under 10 minutes left in the third period to lose 2-1.
Those are six examples of third period lapses in the past 16 days. As a result, Ottawa has left eight points on the table with these late-game miscues. And how much better would everyone be feeling if they were even able to grab three or four of those available points? Now the Islanders and Rangers are breathing down their necks and a playoff spot is anything but guaranteed.
Paul MacLean sees the trend of the third period collapses and summed it up perfectly when I asked him about it after Sunday night's loss in Florida.
"One of the characteristics of our team is that we were able to get points like that early in the year," MacLean explained. "We just have to do a little bit more. We have to work a little bit harder - not a whole lot - to find a way to win our next game."
The Senators are working hard enough to be in every game into the third period, but after that, they're not doing the little things to scratch out the win. That was their trademark last season, when they surprised everyone by grabbing a playoff spot. And it was certainly their identity when they were winning games without their biggest stars like Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson, Milan Michalek, Jared Cowen and Craig Anderson.
A little more pesky - and a lot less sloppy - should remedy this problem for MacLean's Senators. But the club has only 10 games left in this regular season and picked an awful time to have their first stretch of four games without a point. The dire situation is not lost on the players, who spoke about it inside the locker room after the loss to the Panthers.
"We talked about it after the game - we realize what's going on," said Kyle Turris on Sunday night. "We've got 10 games to turn things around. We're confident we'll do that."