Craig Anderson saves Senators season in Game 6 win against Penguins
Ottawa goalie stops 45 shots to help force Game 7 on Thursdayby Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer
OTTAWA -- Guy Boucher wouldn't have agreed to coach the Ottawa Senators last May if Craig Anderson wasn't their goalie.
He lived through his last season and a half with the Tampa Bay Lightning, his first NHL team, without a proven No. 1 goaltender. He wasn't about to go through that again.
"If I didn't have a No. 1 goalie, I didn't want the job," Boucher said. "It's hell when you don't have it because everything you do turns to darkness and there's nothing that really matters when you don't have a real No. 1 goaltender.
"That was one of the biggest reasons why this job for me was appealing. It wasn't just an NHL job. You don't want an NHL job; you want a job where you have a chance."
[RELATED: Complete Penguins vs. Senators series coverage]
Boucher and the Senators have a huge chance to do something great because their No. 1 goalie played like a star in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final at Canadian Tire Centre on Tuesday.
Anderson, two days after getting pulled in Game 5, stopped 45 shots in a season-saving 2-1 win that set the Senators and Penguins up to play Game 7 at PPG Paints Arena on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).
The winner goes to the Stanley Cup Final to play the Nashville Predators. That series begins Monday in either Ottawa or Pittsburgh.
Video: PIT@OTT, Gm6: Anderson extends pad to deny Wilson
"It starts with the goalie," Boucher said. "It's always going to start with the goalie for me because I've been humbled enough now in situations where you can play great and you just can't win. It's like a quarterback in football and a pitcher in baseball, and we have it. We got that guy."
Anderson made 11 saves in a scoreless first period and 22 in the second, when the Senators were outshot 23-10 but escaped with a 1-1 tie. His lone blemish came against Penguins center Evgeni Malkin, who put his own rebound past Anderson at 4:51.
Anderson closed the door in the third by making 12 saves, all after Senators forward Mike Hoffman rang a laser-like shot off the right post and into the net at 1:34 for what stood as the game-winning goal.
Anderson is tied with Patrick Lalime for the most Stanley Cup Playoff wins in Senators history with 21.
"Huge. Monstrous," forward Zack Smith said in describing Anderson's performance. "He had our backs all night. I can't say enough about him."
Anderson, like the rest of the Senators, could have crumbled after Game 5, a 7-0 loss. Anderson allowed four goals on 14 shots before getting pulled for good after the first period.
"You can't change what happened in the past, so from that moment on you have to look forward and get ready for the next one," Anderson said. "As soon as that happened you leave the rink, put it behind you."
A young Craig Anderson probably wouldn't have been able to do that. But that's why he had regular visits with a sports psychologist after his first year of pro hockey more than 15 years ago.
Those visits allowed Anderson, now 36, to get the Senators within a win of the Cup Final.
"I took my biggest strides in pro hockey as far as mentally probably after my first year pro," Anderson said. "It was one of those things where I found a sports psychologist that I liked and worked with him when I was a young player. I used those tools, read a couple books along the way. It's a tough thing to do, but having nights like tonight just emphasize things that I had been taught."
Performances like the one Anderson had Tuesday also emphasize how important he is to helping the Senators play their game.
Video: PIT@OTT, Gm6: Anderson denies Kessel's late wrister
They certainly weren't perfect. You don't allow 46 shots and call it a perfect game. There were mistakes, turnovers, penalties and more, but the difference between the Senators in Game 5 to Game 6 was they were able to play more at ease knowing their goalie had their backs.
"It gives us so much confidence just handling the puck," Smith said. "If you're out there and afraid to make mistakes, turn the puck over, it's a tough way to play and you grip your stick too tight. If he's going to bail you out back there you can play, and I'll choose my words wisely, a little more loose in that regard. But at the same time, we probably want to limit their chances next game. They had a lot of good looks and they played well, but [Anderson] was huge."
The Senators blocked 17 shots in Game 6. That wasn't a coincidence.
"When he delivers like that, it just inspires the rest of the group to play really hard for him," defenseman Marc Methot said. "You want to get in front of those shots for him and block those shots when you can. You have a guy like him back there, it motivates everybody."
Even a prospective coach to take a job.
Boucher didn't make it through his third season with the Lightning because he didn't have a No. 1 goalie he could rely on. He wasn't going to live that experience again.
Anderson is making sure he doesn't have to here.
"This guy is a real No. 1," Boucher said.