Guy Boucher said the Ottawa Senators could choose to approach Game 6 in one of two ways: elimination game or opportunity. They chose the latter.
Mike Hoffman scored the go-ahead goal and eventual game-winner 94 seconds into the third period and Craig Anderson stopped 45-of-46 shots as the Sens staved off elimination and forced Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final with a 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday night.
It was quite the response from a group that was shellacked 7-0 in Pittsburgh two days earlier.
The Sens were back at practice at Canadian Tire Centre a day later, but even before that came an uplifting conversation which set the tone for a "reload" in Game 6.
"I think the biggest message for us was if somebody told us back in training camp in September that we'd have an opportunity to win Game 6 in the Eastern Conference final at home in front of our fans we would've taken it," said Bobby Ryan, who scored a rare power-play goal for the Sens in the win.
"So let's not dwell, let's not kick ourselves and put our heads down," he continued. "Let's embrace this opportunity to extend this for two more days together and go from there."
Key, too, was a better start and while it was the Penguins that eventually grabbed the first lead on a bit of brilliance from Evgeni Malkin in the second, the Sens didn't buckle. Much of that was owed to Anderson, who denied 33-of-34 shots over the first 40 minutes amid constant pressure from the Pens.
"He had our backs all night," Sens forward Zack Smith said.
The 36-year-old Anderson was coming off a pair of rough outings, including Sunday when he was pulled after yielding four goals in the blowout loss. Boucher made the move (twice) to protect Anderson when the game was out of reach and it was at that point that the Illinois native turned the page and started to look ahead.
He credited work with a sports psychologist early in his career for helping him manage the mental side of the game along with the odd motivational book.
"You can't change what happens in the past," Anderson said, still looking dialled in about a half-hour after the horn sounded. "From that moment on you have to look forward and get ready for the next one."
Anderson's performance was a reminder for Boucher of why he took the head coaching job with Ottawa in the first place last May.
"I'll be honest with you, if I didn't have a No. 1 goalie, I didn't want the job," Boucher said. "I've lived it for quite a few years, and 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."
'We have it'
Boucher made the conference final with Tampa in his first season behind an NHL bench. The Lightning, with Mathieu Garon and Dwayne Roloson splitting the net warily, missed the playoffs the next season and Boucher was fired the year after that.
"It's like a quarterback in football and a pitcher in baseball, and we have it," Boucher said.
Anderson would not let another shot past after Hoffman pulled the Sens in front with a wicked blast early in the third. The Sens were looking for a more structured defensive effort in front of him after the weekend debacle and while it came early on, eventually it was the goaltender who needed to come up large.
He stopped 16-of-17 shots from the superstar trio of Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel.
Also helpful to the Sens cause in edging past the defending Stanley Cup champs in Game 6 were functioning special teams. Ryan broke an 0-for-29 drought on the power play when he tied the game at one with a one-time shot that beat Matt Murray short-side. It was the first power-play goal for the club since Game 1 of a second round series against New York (Apr. 27).
Ryan thought it was a building point for his team, but such a point may have arrived even earlier than that with the Sens killing off a pair of first period Pittsburgh power plays. The Pens, who came away with three power-play goals in the previous game, rarely got a good look at Anderson with the best early chance coming shorthanded from Viktor Stalberg.
Ottawa added another penalty killing win midway through the third period with captain (and elite penalty killer) Erik Karlsson in the box for roughing.
The Sens have beaten the odds at every point so far, blowing past any and all expectations with their deep run this spring. They'll get one more chance to extend that run and book a long-awaited trip back to the Stanley Cup final with a win in Game 7.
"We bought ourselves two more days together and this team just wants to be around each other," Ryan said. "It's exciting."