Pascal Leclaire had other ideas. Replacing Brian Elliott as the Senators' starter for Game 5 of their first-round series at Pittsburgh, Leclaire put on a show in an elimination situation. He stopped 56 shots as the Senators 4-3 in triple overtime, as Matt Carkner's point shot went off Matt Cooke and eluded Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who was no slouch himself on this night. The winner came at 7:06 of the third overtime, marking the longest game of these playoffs.
Leclaire is a huge reason why this series is returning to Ottawa for Game 6 Saturday night. The Penguins outshot Ottawa 33-13 in the second and third periods, but never pulled away from the pesky Senators.
Ottawa survived to win the longest game in franchise history, and Leclaire set a franchise record with those 56 saves, besting Martin Gerber's 49 in 2008.
The Senators actually led for a good chunk of this game. Goals 68 seconds apart by Mike Fisher and Jarkko Ruutu gave the Senators a 2-0 lead in the first period. Pittsburgh didn't tie it until the final 90 seconds of the second period. It was a controversial goal that required a review before it was credited to Chris Kunitz.
Sidney Crosby's third-period goal temporarily gave them the lead. It looked like more than that, as the Senators were being pretty thoroughly outplayed at the time.
Ottawa appeared lost, like they had spent most of their energy to get the 2-0 lead, and had nothing left in the tank for a Penguin team that asserted their superiority in the two-game sweep at Ottawa.
All along, Leclaire kept them in it. He made some huge saves during the second and third periods, allowing them to stay close, and Peter Regin tied the score at three less than two minutes after Crosby gave Pittsburgh the lead. There were countless shots that Leclaire didn't have to stop. That's because the guys in front of him -- led by gutsy defenseman Anton Volchenkov -- blocked a ton of shots. Volchenkov was a physical force in the game, and at one point had to crawl to the Ottawa bench during the third overtime.
Both teams wore down appreciably as the overtimes went on. As former Philadelphia coach John Stevens noted on Versus during the intermission prior to the third overtime, this shouldn't be a huge surprise. Both teams -- along with the rest of the league -- faced a condensed schedule throughout the regular season, playing more back-to-backs than usual, and playing generally every other day, both before and after the Olympic break.
Now, playing every other day in a grinding playoff season, it makes sense that players would lose steam more noticeably during long stretches of overtime hockey. It puts a premium on both depth (quantity and quality) and goaltending. Senators forward Jason Spezza, who has battled back problems, ate pizza and rode the exercise bike during that second OT intermission, according to Versus reporter Charissa Thompson.
But a pretty goal wasn't going to beat Leclaire -- or Fleury -- Thursday night. They were too good in overtime for that.
Pittsburgh leads the series 3-2, and they will try again to advance to the second round Saturday.