BOSTON – “I’m coming back, coach. I’ll be available for the playoffs.”
“I wanted to believe him,” Boucher said, with a smile, minutes after MacArthur scored in overtime to send the Senators to the second round. “I really did.”
Well, MacArthur sure made good on that promise. And on Sunday, the 32-year-old Albertan, who’d missed nearly two full seasons with concussion symptoms, scored the winner in Game 6 to give the Senators a 3-2 victory over the Boston Bruins, and a return ticket to Round 2 of the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
As veteran defenceman Dion Phaneuf put it: “What a fitting way to end the series.”
On a power play – which MacArthur drew, 5:54 into OT, after he was taken down while heading to the net – he stood in front, and a Bobby Ryan shot bounced off the pads of Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask, landing pretty well on MacArthur’s tape.
“It went right to me,” MacArthur said. “I was just lucky enough to be in the right spot.”
He put it in, his second of these playoffs, and then No. 16 threw his arms in the air and skated toward the boards, jumped into the glass and celebrated to the delight of just about no one at TD Garden. In a nearly dead-quiet arena, water bottles and yellow rally towels rained down on the ice while the Senators cheered and hollered.
“These are the times that you play all year for,” said captain, Erik Karlsson.
And so it’s onto the second round for the Senators, who will face the New York Rangers, after a series that really couldn’t have been any closer: Four of six games were decided in overtime.
“You saw yourself, every game was decided by one goal,” said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara. “Every game could’ve went the other way.”
But four out of six, it went Ottawa’s, making the Senators the second Canadian team to advance past the first round, along with Edmonton.
“It’s great to end it here,” said MacArthur. “I’ve had some nightmares in here, and it’s nice to be on the other side of it.”
Yes, fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs will remember that nightmare well, back in 2013, when the Bruins staged a Game 7 comeback to eliminate Toronto.
And you had the feeling this series, too, might be going the seven-game distance. In the first, Ottawa failed to convert on three power-play opportunities. Boston basically gifted the Senators chances, sending the puck over the glass in their own end a ridiculous three times, earning delay-of-game penalties.
Ottawa didn’t even register a shot over those six minutes with the man advantage. The only chance came from Karlsson, who rifled a wrist shot off the post.
“They’re best PK in the league, pretty much,” said Karlsson, who’s been his team’s best player, despite the fact he’s playing with two hairline fractures in his left heel. “The players they have, the system that they have, they don’t give you much. You’re gonna have to create it yourself.”
The Bruins, on the other hand, made good on their first chance on the power play to make it 1-0 at 18:13 in the first, when winger Drew Stafford got a pass from Brad Marchand and one-timed a slap shot past Senators goalie Craig Anderson, sending the Garden into a tizzy, yellow towels-a-waving.
“If you look at the game, we start with three power plays that don’t work out and they score on theirs, so mentally it could have affected us,” Boucher said.
But the Senators came back in the second. Early in the period, a tripping penalty on rookie Bruins defenceman gave Ottawa a fourth shot at the power play, and this time, the team made good on it. Ryan tipped a Derick Brassard slap shot from the point for his fourth goal of the post-season – second only to Pittsburgh’s Jake Guentzel – and Karlsson picked up his sixth assist.
Nearly halfway through the second, Kyle Turris made it 2-1 Senators after he got a little pass from winger Ryan Dzingel just inside Boston’s blue-line, then carried it into the slot and quick-released a laser-beam wrist shot over Rask’s blocker for his first goal of the series. That sucked the air out of the Garden, but just briefly.
Less than two minutes into the third, Patrice Bergeron brought the place back to life. On a bad change by Ottawa, a Marchand wrist shot from the right wing just inside the Senators blue-line yielded a juicy rebound from Anderson that knocked off Bergeron’s shin pad, hit the post and bounced off just in front. Bergeron whacked it home to make it 2-2, bringing this crowd to its feet.
And the Senators had blown a lead, yet again.
“The whole playoff has been like that – no lead is safe,” MacArthur said. “You got ‘em 2-1, you feel like you’re doing a pretty good job and they come right back.”
“We were hanging on for dear life,” said Anderson, who made 28 saves. “We came in here, took a deep breath, realized that, hey, tie game, next shot wins, let’s get back to business.”
Ottawa looked like a different team in overtime. The message, said Boucher: “We didn’t play all year to sit back and hope things turn out our way.”
Phaneuf, who scored the OT winner in Game 2, said the feeling in the room was pretty calm. “We just said, ‘let’s get back to playing the way that we can and do what we have to do to be successful.’ I thought we did that in OT – we did a real good job or playing to our structure, playing the way we wanted to.”
Just over a minute in, MacArthur sent a wrist shot that went off Rask’s glove and trickled just wide.
Then came the power-play opportunity, a call on David Pastrnak for holding, which the crowd responded to with chants of “bull—-”
“It was tough to lose it on a penalty in OT,” said Marchand, who assisted both Bruins goals. “He’s working hard to get back and kind of gets tied up with the guy, you know, but it’s tough. It’s not his fault.”
MacArthur said it was key to not give the Bruins momentum, like they did in the first, failing to convert on power-play chances.
“You get opportunities like that to put them away, you gotta put them away,” he said. “It’s just awesome that we were able to.”
Awesome that he was able to, especially. There were times when MacArthur thought he was done with moments like these, when he thought he was done with hockey.
For the first time in his 11-year NHL career, MacArthur will play in a second-round playoff series. He used the words “great” and “awesome” more than a few times in describing what that feels like, to move on.
“There’s nothing like living in the NHL and living in these playoffs,” he said. “I want to stretch it out as long as I can.”