There are things you don’t figure out until after the fact. Like this realization, after Craig Anderson and the Ottawa Senators rolled out of Rogers Place with a 2-0 victory Sunday night: the Edmonton Oilers didn’t have a prayer in this one. Because on this night, all the prayers were being saved for Nicholle Anderson, watching back in Ottawa.
“Him being able to play the way he did under those circumstances?” said Oilers goalie Cam Talbot, just a dozen days removed from having won a game the day after his twins were born. “You have to give him so much credit. It’s an unthinkable situation.”
Compared to this, Talbot’s feat was child’s play.
Less than a week ago, Anderson had left the Senators and flown home to Ottawa upon learning Nicholle had been diagnosed with cancer. The two were watching the Senators play, at home in Ottawa, when Sens goalie Andrew Hammond went down with an injury.
It was Nicholle who told Anderson then and there to phone Sens GM Pierre Dorion, and hop on a plane for Edmonton. And so he did.
Two days later, in the most emotional game any of these players could recall, Anderson stopped all 37 Oilers shots, behind as solid a defensive effort as the Sens could possibly play.
Anderson did not speak with the media afterwards.
“Everybody is feeling for him and Nicholle right now,” said Ottawa’s Bobby Ryan. “That was the quietest I’ve ever heard a room after a win.”
As Anderson skated out to accept first-star accolades, the camera spotted Talbot, who had remained in the runway to the dressing room to join a sold-out Rogers Place in a rare but gracious applause for a visitor who’d shut the Oilers out. Only that morning, Oilers coach Todd McLellan had warned, “I know how [his Oilers] would react to something like this.’ It was a hint that McLellan expected as stout an effort as the Sens could muster.
Boy, was he spot on.
“It was very special. For our goaltender, his family, his wife our players,” said Senators head coach Guy Boucher. “I really respected the fact the Oilers organization, their players and fans, showed a lot of support. We love hockey, it’s a great game. But there are bigger things.”
“The NHL is a tight, tight league,” said Senators captain Erik Karlsson. “I feel like we have a lot of respect for each other, even though we … curse at each other, and we fight. We do a lot of stupid things, but at the end of the day, we all have a life outside of the rink. When things like this happen, you have a lot of human respect for that.
“He held a strong face, but you could still see the pain in his eyes,” Karlsson continued. “Each and every individual in here did whatever we could to make sure he didn’t have anything else to think about. He [played] a hell of a game.”
Karlsson said Anderson was his usual stoic, focused self. And like a pitcher on a no-hit bid, his teammates let him be as he stopped shot after shot from Edmonton.
“Obviously there is a big, black cloud there, but you try not to poke it, to touch at it too much,” he said. “It’s up to him whether he wants to talk about it or not. It will be on their [the Andersons’] terms.”
An 82-game season can get dreary. With travel and loads of games packed into a tight schedule, there will be times when teams are playing on fumes, ripe to be beaten by an opponent with something to play for.
On Sunday, the Senators were the opposite of that: a band of brothers whose No. 1 goalie had been shoved back into battle by his courageous wife, on the road against a 7-1 team that had won five straight.
Mike Hoffman scored the game’s only goal, before Ryan’s empty netter sealed the 2-0 victory. Those particulars will likely fade from our memories, but the big picture certainly will not.
This was a game that these Ottawa Senators will never forget.
God speed, Nicholle. Bon courage.