OTTAWA — Brady Tkachuk says he and his Ottawa Senators teammates are taking lessons learned from a tough start to the season and putting them to use as the campaign comes to a close.
There have been peaks and valleys to the year, but the difficult stretches — including a nine-game losing skid — have helped the team mature, said the Sens' star forward.
"Now we’re learning how to close games off when we would have let off the lead," said Tkachuk, who had two assists Monday as Ottawa closed out a 2-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks.
"It’s just so much more fun to come to the rink when we’re winning and I think everyone realizes that. And everybody comes to the rink every day wanting to win and I think that’s what makes it so much fun. And it’s great to see the progress we’ve had.”
Monday’s result is a tough one for the Canucks, who are still hoping to catch the Montreal Canadiens and Calgary Flames in the battle for a post-season spot. Vancouver remains 10 points behind Montreal, which currently holds the fourth and final spot in the all-Canadian North Division.
Playing games against teams that are fighting for playoff positions is teaching the Sens (18-27-4) how hard it is to win in the NHL, said Ottawa coach D.J. Smith.
“All the little things that go into it just to get two points, you can’t cheat," he said. "We’re learning that on the go here and it’s kind of a free lesson.”
The Canucks nearly evened the score at 2-2 in the dying seconds of the middle frame.
A shot by Bo Horvat on the power play got through Sens goalie Marcus Hogberg but he cleared the errant puck off the goal line with 0.4 seconds left on the clock.
“I saw the puck squeeze through me and I saw the puck gliding toward the goal so I was pretty quick there to catch that," said Hogberg.
The goalie stopped 25-of-26 shots to collect his third win of the season. Braden Holtby had 25 saves for the Canucks (19-20-3).
Drake Batherson scored the game winner 11:41 into the second, blasting a shot over Holtby's stick from the top of the left face-off circle for his 17th goal of the season.
Vancouver's Olli Juolevi made it 1-1 midway through the first period. His shot from near the blue line sailed through traffic and hit the underside of the crossbar on its way in.
It was his second goal of the year. Both tallies have come against the Sens.
Josh Norris opened the scoring 11:22 into the first period Monday, following a sloppy Canucks turnover.
Tkachuk picked up the puck near the Sens blue line and streaked away for a 2-on-1, dishing the puck to Norris as they entered Vancouver territory. The rookie centreman waited patiently for the perfect opportunity, then blasted a shot between Holtby's body and blocker to give Ottawa an early 1-0 lead.
“I saw the (defenceman) go down and just tried to outwait him and then just fired it. I wasn’t really thinking where, I just kind of shot it," Norris said.
The goal was Norris's 14th of the year. He has 13 points (six goals, seven assists) since April 1.
The game was a tight matchup and Vancouver temporarily lost momentum in the second period, said Canucks coach Travis Green.
“It’s a fine line at this time of the year between winning and losing," he said. I liked our first. I thought we made a couple mistakes that we’d like to have back.
"We talked to our team a lot about how every shift matters, especially with our team and at this time of the year. Every turnover, every puck battle matters.”
The Sens were coming off a 4-2 loss to the Canucks on Saturday. Vancouver leads the nine-game season series between the two sides 6-2.
The two sides will wrap up their season series in Ottawa on Wednesday.
NOTES: Tkachuk leads the Senators in scoring with 32 points (15 goals, 17 assists). … Both teams were 0 for 1 on the power play. … Vancouver goalie Thatcher Demko picked up a lower-body injury in morning skate on Monday and is considered day-to-day. Arturs Silovs acted as backup for Holtby against the Sens.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 26, 2021.
The Canadian Press