Print and Go Back NHL Playoffs 2007 [Print without images]

Saturday, May 12, 2007
Spezza sets up Corvo's double-OT goal

By E.J. Hradek
ESPN The Magazine

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- It was early in the second overtime of second game of the Eastern Conference finals Saturday night, and Jason Spezza was mad. The whistle had just blown for an icing and the young Ottawa Senators pivot was gliding back toward the offensive zone for another faceoff. As he did, Spezza cursed himself out. He was so animated his teammates on the bench heard him and cackled as he drifted by.

Spezza was mad because he'd been beaten cleanly by Buffalo Sabres center Chris Drury on the previous draw in the attacking zone.

"In overtime, those faceoffs are scoring chances," Spezza said, explaining why he teed off on himself.

He proved that point on the very next draw. This time, in the same right-wing circle, he beat Drury, winning the puck back to his left. A second or two later, thanks to a knuckleballing blast from defenseman Joe Corvo, the Senators had a 4-3 overtime win and a commanding 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals.

"I was able to pick that second one clean," said Spezza, who won just 10 of 25 draws on the night. "I changed the angle of my stick a little bit. It's a subtle change, but you're always making little adjustments to try to get a little edge."

In the righty vs. righty faceoff matchup with Drury, Spezza did have a little advantage because of the draw's location.

"In that circle, I'm on my strong side," Spezza said. "That's his weak side [because he doesn't want to pull the puck right at his own net]."

Spezza did win the draw, but the puck didn't slide flat to Corvo. Instead, the puck was spinning on its side like a top. Like Spezza, the Senators made a little adjustment as he prepared to rip the puck toward Sabres goalie Ryan Miller.

"I saw that it wasn't flat," said Corvo, who'd just come onto the ice as part of defensive change suggested by Sens assistant coach John Paddock. "I wanted to put everything into it, but I also made sure to cup my stick blade so the shot wouldn't fly high on me."

Corvo's shot didn't fly high. In fact, it came at Miller like a Roger Clemens split-finger fastball. The shot started about knee high, then took a wicked dive off the ice, bouncing up over Miller's outstretched right pad and into the net.

"A drop shot that catches an edge," Miller lamented. "That's a terrible way to end the game."

Ironically, Corvo had an overtime bounce go against him and his team in Game 2 of the conference semifinals against the Devils. In the dressing room, he remembered.

"Langenbrunner," said the smiling defender, recalling the name of the New Jersey player who scored the game-winning goal after picking up a loose puck. "Yeah, I guess I'm even now."

Of course, Corvo doesn't get the chance to get even if Spezza doesn't win the draw. The offensively gifted center, who dished out three assists, pulling into a tie for the league's playoff scoring lead with linemate Dany Heatley, is gaining an understanding of just how important the little things -- such as winning a faceoff -- can be in the postseason.

"I was thrilled to win that draw," said Spezza, who admitted he normally doesn't have too much luck against Drury (especially on the road where, by rule, he has to put his stick down first). "That was a great feeling."

Spezza got mad. Then, a minute later, he was glad. He and his teammates were very glad. They were going home with a 2-0 series lead. There's no reason to be mad about that.

Game notes
A couple of streaks bit the dust Saturday night in Buffalo. For the Sabres, this marked the first time during the regular season or playoffs that they'd lost after holding a two-goal lead during a game. (They led 2-0 after Jochen Hecht scored at the 6:13 mark of the first period.) Before Saturday, they were 46-0 in such circumstances. ...

The Senators, meanwhile, grabbed a 2-0 series lead for the first time in their history. They'd been asked about that negative stat in the hours leading to Game 2. They were happy to have that monkey off their back. "It's nice not to have to talk about it anymore," Spezza said. ...

Ottawa head coach Bryan Murray credited Paddock with the decision to change his defensive pair just prior to the winning. "It was a good move, but it wasn't mine," Murray said. Paddock said he decided to make the switch simply to keep his match-ups straight. He wanted his other two defensive pairs to face two different Sabres' lines. ...

When Daniel Briere forced overtime with 5.8 seconds remaining in regulation time, Murray wasn't sure which Sabres player had scored. "At the time, I said, 'Did Drury score again?' Then I saw it was the other guy this time." ...

Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff did a little line shuffling in Game 2. Ruff moved Briere back to the middle on a line with LW Jason Pominville and Hecht. He made the move to create more minutes for Briere, who played just 15:33 in Game 1. Two games ago, in Game 6 of their second round series against the Rangers, Briere received just 14:13 of ice time. To accommodate the switch, Ruff moved rugged Paul Gaustad to a line with Drury and RW Dainius Zubrus; while Tim Connolly centered a fourth line for RW Adam Mair and LW Ales Kotalik. ...

The Senators love to shoot in the second period. In their first 12 playoff games (including Saturday's tilt), they've outshot their opponents by a whopping 149-94 margin. That large difference seems to indicate that the Senators' coaching staff is doing a good job of making adjustments and communicating them to their players after the first 20 minutes. ...

The Sabres had a power-play goal overturned by video replay at the 1:51 mark of the first period. On the play, Sabres winger Thomas Vanek deflected Roy's cross-crease attempt into the net. After a delay of approximately five minutes, the league ruled that Vanek had directed the puck into the goal with his glove. While the puck did deflect off Vanek's left glove, he had both hands on the stick and he was making a shooting motion. I thought the league got this one wrong.

E.J. Hradek covers hockey for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at Also, click here to send E.J. a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.