Senators show fight but can’t overcome controversial goal in must-win game

OTTAWA — The Ottawa Senators see themselves as a resilient group.

Sometimes there is only so much a team can overcome in a game.

Down 4-2 on Thursday against the reigning Stanley Cup champions, the Colorado Avalanche, the Sens got burned on one of the strangest non-calls anyone had seen.

“One of the weirdest goals there is probably going to be this year,” said Senators captain Brady Tkachuk, following this kick-in-the-gut loss that Ottawa couldn’t afford to have happen with their thread-thin playoff hopes.

It should have been a simple icing call. Rookie goaltender Mads Sogaard had his arm up to signal the icing. But when icing was waved off, defenceman Jake Sanderson tucked the puck into the pads of Sogaard, who had it and covered it for a second or two.

Everyone stopped playing. Where’s the whistle? It didn’t come.

Avs forward Lars Eller, seeing the puck free, jumped in and pushed the puck through Sogaard and into the net.

“Everybody was looking around,” Eller told Colorado reporters. “They were waiting for the whistle, but the whistle never came. You don’t just quit on the play and then you see what happens.”

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The Senators opted for a coach’s challenge for goaltender interference, which did nothing except give Colorado the goal plus a power play for delay of game.

“Our guy in the back said he (Eller) pushed his pad in,” said Senators head coach D.J. Smith. “They reviewed it and that’s not what they got.”

Though that crazy goal came late in the second period and gave the Avs a 5-2 lead, the Senators did not quit. If anything, the missed call and several other questionable calls and non-calls (including a takedown of Claude Giroux) seemed to serve as a rallying cry. Travis Hamonic and Tkachuk scored in the third period. With the goalie pulled and on a two-man advantage in the dying seconds, Alex DeBrincat wired a shot that had goal written on it except that Avs goalie Jonas Johansson made the save of his life. Game over.

“The season is on the line, we played hard, gave ourselves a chance at the end there,” Giroux said. “It’s frustrating when you play hard and the result is not there.”

Even at the end, the stripes failed. The puck was free above the crease with four-plus seconds left, but the refs thought it was frozen and blew the whistle.

Oh, NOW you blow it.

Smith called the game a “result we don’t deserve.”

“It happens, but we worked hard, we came to play today and to have it decided like that — we probably should still be playing (in overtime),” Smith said.

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Everyone sought to protect Sogaard, who clearly could have changed the outcome by just smothering the puck, completely, until the whistle sounded. Some lessons are harder than others, and his teammates have his back.

“We all believe Soagy is so absolutely not at fault,” Tkachuk said. “I feel terrible for him. He’s been so key and put in such a shitty situation with both goalies (Cam Talbot and Anton Forsberg) going down.

“He’s our goalie of the future and he’s going to take us to the Stanley Cup, take us to that next level. It’s just a shitty situation that he’s in right now, with the pressure and being such a young goalie. But we have all the belief in him … it’s unbelievable how good a player he is… and just one of the nicest, genuine, great guys to be around.”

Tkachuk said the referee on the other side of the net told him he didn’t see the goalie cover the puck and so let the play go on.

As tough a loss as it was, the Senators provided their fans with one of the most entertaining games of the year. Power to them, the Senators fairly limped back, in some cases literally, from a road trip that pretty much put their playoff hopes in a ditch.

It didn’t stop them from engaging in a compelling game against the always energetic Avs, with Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar flying around. A lit crowd of 19,158 watched the Senators and Avalanche go at it for 60 minutes and there weren’t many witnesses lamenting the recent road trip. They were all in on this night.

Fans cheered sarcastically at every routine icing call following the call that was missed.

Everyone was in the moment, up on the latest changes in personnel, including deployment. Eyes lit up when Sanderson came out to run the first power play unit, even though Thomas Chabot, the usual QB, was able to start the game after missing one with a foot injury.

Sanderson, who played 24:17 to Chabot’s 22:11, helped set up Ottawa’s first power-play goal, a tip by Drake Batherson off a Tim Stützle shot.

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The other interesting part of the power play set up — Chabot anchored the point alongside Jakob Chychrun , and on their first foray in the first period they controlled play and generated several good chances.

Something to think about in the days ahead.

Sogaard might have liked a couple of those Colorado goals back, such as the high wristers from Makar and Evan Rodriguez that beat him stick side. But none more than their fifth goal, the one that left a bad taste in a lot of mouths.

Onward now, as the Maple Leafs visit on Saturday.

The quality of competition usually brings out the best in this group. Good teams Ottawa has defeated this season include: Boston (twice), Toronto, Dallas, LA, Toronto, Seattle.

Perhaps it’s the better part of fear, not wanting to get embarrassed, but the Senators have tended to rise up when the level of competition is higher. With games at home to the Avs and the Maple Leafs, there isn’t time to fret about a western road trip that went south.

“You’ve got nothing but playoff teams ahead of you, so that’s a good thing,” Smith said, prior to the Colorado game. “We’re going to play the best and find out where we’re at.”

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