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The Ottawa Senators refused to let a rash of injuries keep them out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Senators capped their unlikely run to a playoff berth Thursday night when Sergei Gonchar's power-play goal 47 seconds into overtime gave Ottawa a 2-1 victory against the Washington Capitals and the final postseason berth in the Eastern Conference.
Gonchar blasted a slap shot from inside the right circle past Michal Neuvirth to give the Senators the victory and eliminate the Winnipeg Jets, the only team that could have caught them. The goal came with Washington's Mike Ribeiro serving a roughing penalty he took with 58 seconds left in regulation.
The Senators advanced to the postseason despite missing No. 1 center Jason Spezza for almost all of the regular season, missing Norris Trophy defenseman Erik Karlsson for nearly 10 weeks with a torn Achilles tendon, and playing without No. 1 goaltender Craig Anderson and high-scoring forward Milan Michalek for long stretches due to injuries.
"It's a tremendous credit to our players first of all and their perseverance through quite a bit of adversity this season," Ottawa coach Paul MacLean said. "For us to make the playoffs under the circumstances that we were put under early in the season, I think is a great accomplishment by the group, and the players deserve all of the credit because they came out and played real hard."
Neuvirth made 39 saves as the Senators outshot the Capitals 41-20. Washington, which had locked up the Southeast Division and the No. 3 seed, got their goal from Alex Ovechkin in the third period.
The teams could meet again in the playoffs -- the Senators enter the final three days of the season as the No. 6 seed and would draw Washington in the opening round. They defeated the Capitals on consecutive Thursdays and swept the three-game season series.
"The first game was a long time ago (Jan. 29), and I think they're playing better now than they did then," Washington coach Adam Oates said of Ottawa. "They got Karlsson back, and we saw a little bit of what he can bring tonight. They're a good hockey team, and if we end up playing them we'll be ready for them."
Capitals defenseman Mike Green said, "We will see what happens. They are a good team and it would be a great matchup, but we will figure out a way [to win]. At the end of the day, if you outwork your opponent, you'll win."
Karlsson played for the first time since suffering a 70-percent tear of his Achilles tendon on Feb. 13. MacLean didn't hold back using his top defenseman: Karlsson played 27:11, attempted 12 shots and got eight of them on goal.
"I felt OK," he said. "I battled some issues out there and didn't feel quite as comfortable as I'm used to, but overall it was a solid game. I still have to work through some mistakes and clean those up."
A play that wasn't credited as a Karlsson shot wound up as the game's first goal. He teed up a slap shot from the right point, and Jacob Silfverberg deflected it past Neuvirth at 12:35 of the second period for his 10th goal of the season.
The Capitals tied it 8:31 into the third period on a spectacular effort by Ovechkin. He raced down the right side, cut to the front of the net and slid a backhander past Anderson for his NHL-best 32nd goal of the season.
It was one of four shots by the Capitals in the final 20 minutes. Ottawa outshot Washington 23-4 in the third period but couldn't get a puck past Neuvirth until the overtime.
"You couldn't have [written] it any better than how it went," Anderson said. "We played really well from start to finish, we took care of the puck when we had to take care of the puck, we threw a lot of things at the net, we were getting to the net, we were getting a lot of traffic, and it was overall a great 60 minutes by everybody."
To Anderson, making the playoffs by overcoming the injuries the Senators faced this season made things a little more special.
"We've come a long way, we've grown as a team, and we've found ways to win games," he said. "At this time of the season and going forward here, it doesn't matter how good or bad you play … if you come out on top at the end of the game, that's really all that matters."
Material from team media was used in this report
|Jakob Silfverberg (10) Tip-in - ASST: Erik Karlsson (5), Milan Michalek (10)|
1 - 0 OTT
|Alex Ovechkin (32) Backhand shot - ASST: Marcus Johansson (16), Mike Green (13)|
1 - 1 Tie
|PPG - Sergei Gonchar (3) Slapshot - ASST: Erik Karlsson (6), Daniel Alfredsson (15)|
2 - 1 OTT
|Chris Neil Boarding against Jason Chimera|
|Matt Hendricks Roughing against Erik Condra|
|Mike Green Hooking against Cory Conacher|
|Alex Ovechkin Slashing against Colin Greening|
|Daniel Alfredsson Roughing against John Erskine|
|John Erskine Roughing against Daniel Alfredsson|
|Mike Ribeiro Hooking against Jared Cowen|
|Mike Ribeiro Roughing against Kyle Turris|
|Jason Chimera Misconduct (10 min)|