OTTAWA -- Although it appeared the Ottawa Senators' improbable saga this season might finally be nearing its end Sunday night, instead, the Sens wrote another unlikely chapter to get back in its second-round series with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
With time winding down in regulation and Ottawa trailing 1-0 -- and the Senators' hopes of realistically winning the series likely winding down along with it -- Senators' captain Daniel Alfredsson delivered an unlikely boost for a team that has shown a lot of push back this season despite facing a ton of adversity and sent what had been a nervous crowd at Scotiabank Place into a loud frenzy.
After a late slashing penalty was called on Erik Karlsson with Ottawa facing a 1-0 deficit with 1:27 left to play, the mood turned from nervous to gloomy after an apparent high-stick by Matt Cooke on Karlsson wasn't called just a few minutes before. But instead of the Penguins going for the kill, the Pittsburgh sat back with the extra man and the lead, and the team that has earned the nickname "Pesky Sens" during this campaign proved to live up to the moniker.
As the clock wound under 30 seconds left in regulation, Milan Michalek slipped the puck from along the side boards in front of the Penguins cage, where Alfredsson -- left relatively alone in front of Penguins netminder Tomas Vokoun -- and redirected the shot over Vokoun's sholder, and a crowd that had been waiting 59 minutes to cheer a goal erupted.
"When you get a penalty there at the end of the game you don't expect to get much out of it," Senators forward Jason Spezza said. "It was a heck of the play by the guys on the ice, nice finish, and it's a huge goal in the series for us."
"It took us 59 minutes to get a goal, we tied it up and got momentum from the crowd and built off that to try and get some success," Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson said.
Despite yielding the equalizer late in regulation, the Penguins came out determined to try and end the game in overtime, controlled the first extra session, but Anderson didn't yield, making several terrific stops to keep play going.
Eventually, Ottawa finally helped out their goaltender and ended the game 7:39 into the second overtime when Colin Greening knocked in a rebound to create a deafening roar around the building and give new life to a season that appeared to be on life support just over an hour before.
"I thought we battled pretty hard throughout, they're up 1-0, and after that, they make it tough through the neutral zone for us," Alfredsson said of the game. "It looked like they had it wrapped up and we were able to get a big goal shorthanded to get it to overtime, and then both teams had their chances before we got the winner."
The goal led to the Senators' comeback win to cut the Penguins' series lead to 2-1, and Pittsburgh -- less than 30 seconds away from moving to within a game of its first Eastern Conference Finals appearance since the franchise's last Cup in 2009 -- now has to deal with a tough loss in a game that got away.
"You like to think you can hold onto the puck for the last 1:27 with a power play," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma afterwards. "That wasn't the case."
Despite getting a boost from the return of Spezza after a 50-game absence due to surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back suffered against these same Penguins back on Jan. 27, the Senators couldn't solve Vokoun for the first 59 minutes of regulation.
The Senators played their best game of the series, but the Penguins used a pair of bad turnovers late in the second period to generate a Tyler Kennedy goal that gave the Pens a lead that appeared it would hold up and it seemed Pittsburgh would grab a 3-0 lead despite an effort well below what they displayed in two home games to start the series.
But the Alfredsson goal could change the tenor of the series, especially with Spezza back in the lineup and Anderson turning in a much sharperperformance than his two in Pittsburgh.
Now, the series could hinge on Game 4 and how both teams come off the dramatic shift in momentum.
With Spezza back in the lineup, the Senators are certainly a much more potent club and he was effective in generating some opportunities for Ottawa, although his first game in nearly four months left him a bit winded with the extra session.
"I felt all right during the game, during the overtime I felt a little tired."
For the Penguins, dropping a game in that fashion requires a short memory, as the win that was 28.6 seconds from being theirs has to wait at least until Tuesday night in Game 4.
But for one more night, at least, the "Pesky Sens" showed why they have earned that reputation overcoming injury and adversity to reach the second-round of the playoffs.
"Fun," Spezza said, grinning, when asked of taking part in the game." Fun to be a part of. Pretty exciting game."