5 Best Games of the Senators-Canadiens Rivalry

The rivalry between the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators is a bit overshadowed by the hate both fan bases have for the Toronto Maple Leafs, but it’s one of the more interesting rivalries in the NHL. Whether it’s a brutal hit, controversial call, or some kind of coaching craziness, something always seems to get fans fired up whenever these interprovincial foes face each other.

The two franchises have met in the playoffs twice in the past five years, and games between the two teams are rarely boring. There have been many incredible regular season moments in the rivalry. There is the expansion Senators’ first-ever NHL game, where they defeated the powerhouse Canadiens. More recently, there is Montreal’s shocking comeback from 4-1 down with less than four minutes to go in the third period.

However, since the two playoff series between these teams were so contentious and nasty, this list is just going to focus on the postseason. So, in honour of one of the first games in NHL history, played between Montreal and Ottawa 100 years ago this month, here are five of the best games between the Senators and Canadiens. The way you put these games in order depends on which team you cheer for.

“Player 61”

Game 1 of the 2013 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals kicked off with a tight-checking game where both Craig Anderson and Carey Price showed they were two of the best goaltenders in the game. Erik Karlsson struck first for the Senators late in the first period, with Rene Bourque tying things up at one in the second period. What happened shortly after Bourque’s goal would set the tone for the rest of the series. Canadiens defenceman Raphael Diaz made a breakout pass to Lars Eller, who received the puck at the worst possible time.

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Lars Eller is carted off the ice after the Gryba hit. (Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports)

Senators defenceman Eric Gryba’s shoulder made contact with Eller’s head when he looked down to take Diaz’s pass. The result was devastating. Eller was left bloody after his face hit the ice, and the Bell Centre crowd was furious. The officials gave Gryba penalty for interference and a game misconduct, and was later handed a two-game suspension for an illegal check to the head. The Canadiens took advantage of their resulting power play, peppering Anderson with shots and eventually scoring to take a 2-1 lead into the third.

The Senators, however, came out into the final frame with a ton of energy, scoring three straight goals to win the game 4-2. While Anderson’s 48-save performance would normally be the talk of the town the next day, instead, the big story heading into Game 2 was the post-game comments made by both teams. Senators coach Paul MacLean was asked about Gryba’s hit, and responded with some controversial remarks.

“If I’m, is it Eller who got hit? I’m really mad at player 61, whoever he is,” MacLean said. “Because he passed me the puck in the middle of the rink when I wasn’t looking, and that’s a dangerous place.”

This predictably didn’t go over well in the Montreal locker room, with forward Brandon Prust calling MacLean a “bug-eyed fat walrus.”

The Slash

Game 1 of the 2015 first-round series between these two teams was also pretty crazy, and there’s no surprise that Montreal’s most divisive player set the tone. The Canadiens were leading 2-1 in the second period when defenceman P.K. Subban was given a major penalty for slashing Mark Stone on the wrist. The two-hand slash resulted in a microfracture in Stone’s wrist, and Ottawa fans were irate when it was announced the next day that Subban would not be suspended for the play.

The ensuing Senators power play would result in some goals for both teams. Kyle Turris would tie the game for the Senators, but Lars Eller quickly took the lead back for the Canadiens by scoring a breakaway goal a minute later. Less than a minute after Eller’s goal, Mika Zibanejad once again evened things up. The Canadiens would score a final goal late in the period and hung on to win 4-3 with a scrum breaking out at the final buzzer.

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The Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens trade punches (Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports)

Senators coach Dave Cameron made his opinions on Subban’s slash pretty clear during the post-game press conference. “I think it’s an easy solution: You either suspend him or one of their best players gets slashed and just give us five,” the coach said. “Not that complicated.” Heading into Game 2, things felt very similar to the last time the two teams met in the playoffs, but this time, Montreal seemed to be in Ottawa’s heads. Subban became Public Enemy No. 1 in Ottawa, and the Senators had their work cut out for them against a very good Canadiens team.

The “Shutout”

The Canadiens took a 3-0 lead in the series, beating the Senators in overtime in the two following games. While all the games were close, Ottawa was on the brink of elimination. However, the Sens managed to make a series out of it, edging the Habs 1-0 in Game 4, and blowing them out 5-1 in Game 5. Craig Anderson reclaimed his spot as the team’s number 1 goalie after Andrew Hammond’s incredible run in the Senators crease came to a screeching halt after two playoff games.

Heading into Game 6, it looked like the tide was turning in Ottawa’s favor, but then Carey Price played a game that made it clear he was the best goalie in the league. Price started off the game strong, and took his play to another level once the Canadiens scored. After Brendan Gallagher, who had been a thorn in the side of the Senators all series, redirected a shot past Anderson, the Habs shut the game down.

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Mika Zibanejad shoots the puck on Carey Price during Game 6 in 2015 (Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports)

It was a textbook display of playoff defence, as the Habs went back to the strategy that won them the Atlantic Division. However, the Senators thought they finally had one when Jean-Gabriel Pageau swooped in to tap a loose puck into the net. However, the referee thought Price covered the puck and had blown the play dead. The official was met by a chorus of boos from the crowd at the Canadian Tire Centre, but the play was not eligible for video review. In the end, Price stopped all 43 shots he faced and the Canadiens won the series, defeating their rivals four games to two.

The Line Brawl

When many fans think of this rivalry, they think of what took place during the third game of the 2013 series, where all 10 skaters on the ice dropped the gloves and found a partner to trade punches with. Montreal and Ottawa were fairly evenly matched in Game 3, heading into the second period tied at one following goals from Daniel Alfredsson and Rene Bourque. Senators rookie Jean-Gabriel Pageau then scored his first of the playoffs to put Ottawa ahead, the only goal of the period.

It looked like we were in for another tight finish going into the third frame, but early in the period, Pageau scored again on the rush, this time from the opposite side of the ice. After a few big saves from Anderson, the Senators scored a fourth goal to take control of the game. After the following faceoff, all hell broke loose.

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Habs centre Ryan White gave Zack Smith a two-handed slash off the draw, and all the players on the ice headed to centre ice to defend their teammates. After all the penalties were sorted out, Jakob Silfverberg would score and Pageau added another to complete his hat trick in a 6-1 Ottawa win.

The Kick-In

Following the insanity of Game 3, fans were anxiously anticipating what might happen the next time these teams met. The Senators were looking to take a stranglehold, and the Canadiens were looking to even the series. The first period was once again tight, with both goalies making big saves and keeping things scoreless. Early in the second, the Canadiens came out flying, scoring two goals on the rush within a minute.

Price continued to stand tall in the third period, and it looked like the Canadiens were in control. The Habs star made several key saves as the Sens started to show some pushback, but finally allowed a goal with just over eight minutes remaining in regulation. Chris Neil fired a shot towards the net from the boards, and the puck bounced right off Mika Zibanejad’s foot into the wide-open net.

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Mika Zibanejad scores a controversial goal (Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports)

The goal is still a subject of controversy, as it looked like Zibanejad may have kicked the puck instead of redirecting it as the rules allow. Nonetheless, video review confirmed the goal, and the Senators were back in it.

With 23 seconds on the clock and the Ottawa net empty, Cory Conacher tied the game for the Senators off a crafty behind-the-net pass from Daniel Alfredsson, and the Canadian Tire Centre exploded. Things would only get worse for Montreal, as Price was slow to get up after stopping a hard slap shot from Zibanejad in the dying seconds of the period. Price was not fit to play in overtime, and early in the extra frame, Kyle Turris beat backup goalie Peter Budaj with a wobbly wrist shot to give Ottawa a 3-1 series lead. The Sens would finish off the Habs in Game 5, giving them their first series win in six years.