Revenge of Craig Anderson has Senators believing again

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Revenge of Craig Anderson has Senators believing again
Revenge of Craig Anderson has Senators believing again

When Andrew Hammond grabbed the Ottawa Senators’ starting goaltender job, Craig Anderson couldn’t grab a stick. 

His right hand had a deep bone bruise, keeping him out of the lineup. With Robin Lehner injured as well, Hammond was given his shot as a 27-year-old rookie on Feb. 18. He would go on to finish the regular season with a 20-1-2 record, going 14 straight starts without a regulation loss.

Anderson became a forgotten man, a footnote to a folk hero. He wanted to take part in this Senators’ resurgence, but he physically couldn’t; at one point, he was teary-eyed in front of reporters in discussing how the situation was “killing” him.

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Yet there was also the inescapable notion that the rally might not be happening were it not for Hammond. No one was throwing fast food on the ice in celebration of Anderson’s wins. This was a fresh, new vibe; Anderson was the oft-injured veteran who seemed to be a placeholder for the Next Big Thing – signing a three-year contract last summer right after Lehner did, a clear indication they wanted Anderson around but just until they could trust the younger model.

To that end, he was an insurance policy, much like he was when the Senators began their series with the Montreal Canadiens with Hammond between the pipes. By Game 3, Ottawa cashed in the policy, yanking their folk hero and turning back to their former starter.

All he’s done since then is stop 120 of 123 shots, posting two wins with a .976 save percentage.

"We've been focusing on the right things. We've been in situations where we're not where we want to be and we've found ways to dig ourselves out of the hole," said Anderson after the Game 5 win over Montreal, forcing Sunday’s Game 6. "We're in that situation right now where we're still in the hole and we're still digging. We're not out of it yet. We still need to continue to win but we're kind of in the moment of just coming together as a group, sticking together, and just winning one game at time."

You can see the Senators finding that swagger, that chemistry, that momentum that carried them from over a dozen points out of the playoffs to a wild card. It’s been missing all series, and some of that can be attributed to Hammond turning into a pumpkin at midnight. A team can play with reckless abandon when it knows its backend is covered. But that security they had in the regular season was lost in the first two games of the postseason, until Anderson started saving everything he saw.

He’s helped restore their confidence, helped them find their fight. Look no further than the stickwork he had with Brandon Prust in Game 5 to see his compete level; said Anderson, “I got the stick in the gut and then I started hacking and whacking. It was a battle of emotions.”

Beating Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens four straight times is unlikely. The Habs still have two chances to close out their series.

But we’ve seen Anderson do this before – get locked in, save 50 pucks a game, save his team’s bacon in close wins, and have it continue for several games. In a League where you’re only as good as your goalie, Anderson can make teams look quite good in stretches.

And we’ve seen Ottawa do this before: Thrive when counted out, defy the odds and make believers out of the logical and the cynical. This isn’t to say Anderson and the Senators have another miracle comeback left in them; but who among us had this thing tabbed for a Game 6 last week?

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