The Senators felt the pressure. The Bruins felt the pressure. If there was a game to be labeled the "biggest of the season" for both sides, this was it.
Within a mere 19 seconds, the game's tone was set.
A turnover not long after the opening draw led to the Sens racing in on Tuukka Rask and creating a 4-on-3. Kyle Turris ignited the crowd with the early tally and 1-0 lead, laying the groundwork for an eventual 6-4 win over the Bruins.
Boston did respond to the goal right away, with Carl Soderberg firing in his first goal in 25 games just 40 seconds later, as Turris' goal was still being announced to the crowd.
But back-and-forth, run-and-gun hockey is not how the Bruins play. Ottawa dictated that from the drop of the puck.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah - exactly. Took the words out of my mouth," Rask said postgame from the Canadian Tire Centre.
"I've seen that before, that's not our style, and we tend to lose the games when we play like that, and today's no different. You just hope that we regroup and start playing our style, but today it didn't really happen."
Ryan Spooner broke the 1-1 tie at 4:04 into the first, when he deflected in a Milan Lucic drive after starting the play with a strong forecheck that popped the puck up to David Pastrnak along the boards.
Up 2-1 and on a power play in the first, the Bruins were able to build some momentum, but then the Sens turned it on after the kill. Boston wouldn't register another shot on goal until the second period.
Ottawa tied it up 2-2 when the Bruins couldn't clear a rebound in front, and the puck jutted out to Milan Michalek, who buried it past Rask with 4:57 to go in the first. The Bruins escaped the loose period with the tie.
"You've got to be able to play big in these big games," said Head Coach Claude Julien. "It starts off from the first shift, we turn the puck over and we're very soft coming back to the net-front, so they pounce on that loose puck."
That tone continued. Early in the second, Daniel Paille was stripped of the puck on a breakout attempt, and David Legwand cashed in after a passing play down low to make it 3-2.
"Disappointed is probably the right word," said Julien. "When you get to those big games, you expect a lot more out of a lot of guys and we didn't get that."
"When you look at the game, the feeling is that they seemed to want it more than we did, and that's the other part that's disappointing. At one point, you've got to look at yourself in the mirror and 'well, let's stop pretending here and start showing we want to be in a playoff spot."
"We need a lot more from a lot of guys, and that was a big game for us and unfortunately we didn't get that."
Spooner scored his second of the night midway through the second during a 5-on-3, rejuvenating the Bruins' power play that had not converted in its previous 17 attempts spanning six games. With the goal, Spooner has now scored four of his five NHL goals in Ottawa.
The Bruins could have gained momentum from that, with the extended power play, but a miscue coming out of their zone saw Reilly Smith's attempted outlet pass picked off. Jean-Gabriel Pageau made them pay with the shorthanded tally.
Again, the Bruins tied it up, with Torey Krug netting one of his own after assisting on Spooner's equalizer. The go-ahead came just after the man advantage came to an end.
The flurry of three goals came all within 1:35.
Boston still wasn't satisfied with the way it had been playing, and Julien wasn't either. After the turnovers on the Sens' opening goal and the shorthanded tally, Smith didn't see another shift until midway through the third period, with Daniel Paille and Gregory Campbell. Max Talbot assumed the right wing spot alongside Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand for the most part. The bench was shortened.
"It is disappointing," said Bergeron. "We didn't take care of our own zone, especially in front of the net, and that's where they got their goals, and most of their chances, so we've definitely got to do a better job there."
"Usually when you score four goals, it should be enough to win a game."
With a 4-4 game heading to the third, the Bruins were in OK shape, if they could start to impose their game on Ottawa.
On Smith's first shift in the third with Paille and Campbell, he lost a handle on the puck in the neutral zone and the Sens were off to the races. Rask made a huge stop on Mike Hoffman, but Smith didn't hop over the boards the rest of the night.
A few minutes later, Bobby Ryan fired a seemingly innocent shot that Rask tried to steer to the corner, but it bounced over his stick, hit his pads, glanced off his shin pad and went in for the 5-4 lead. An empty-netter would seal the Bruins' 6-4 fate.
"Tough loss. Especially that fifth goal there," said Lucic. "Lucky play for them, and even the shorthanded goal we gave up. You know, some plays that weren't strong plays on our part that ended up in the back of the net and I mean, big game for both teams and they come out on top."
"We didn't keep things tight enough in the neutral zone, breaking up plays and being hard on them, so they're a team that thrives off that, off the rush, through the neutral zone, and wasn't good enough today, and that's one of the areas that we're going to have to clean up if we want to get the results that we want."
The team was loose in its usually stingy areas around Rask and in the slot.
"You let in five, six goals as a goalie, you can't say you were good, either," said the netminder, who played in his 59th game, setting a new career season-high in appearances. "It was different from what we had showed in the past few weeks or months. Not good enough."
The Bruins have won important games amidst this final push. They came back to beat the Flyers in overtime and rattled off five straight wins before falling into their recent 0-2-1 stretch. Right now, they can't afford any more games like the loss to Ottawa.
"[We need to] go back to what actually gave us the success that we've had in that stretch," said Bergeron. " Right now we've played into their hands, which they want to play that transition game and it's not our game, so we've got to go back to playing tight defensively."
The Senators now sit just two points back of the Bruins in the standings, with a game in hand. The Bruins will have to regroup quickly, before facing another four-point game against the Panthers in Sunrise on Saturday.
"At the end of the day, we've still got a two-point lead," said Lucic. "I know they have a game in hand right now. It means nothing unless they win it, so with 11 games left, we know it's not going to be easy, especially looking at our schedule and the teams that we have to play."
"Every game's going to be like this for the rest of the season and we've got to fight and play our best and bring our best in order to make the playoffs."
"It's a sprint to the end of the season, so obviously there's a lot more pressure on us," Lucic said. "But it's something that's self-inflicted and we have to step up our game if we want to end up where we want to end up at the end of the year."
The schedule won't be friendly, with seven games on the road and just four at home. But that doesn't matter. Get ready for the storyline to remain the same. Every game is important, and it will be a fight until the end.
"It was the biggest game of the year again," said Rask. "We've won a couple of those, but now we lost. And that doesn't really change anything."
"We still have a spot and things are in our own hands. We just have to win."