Now Ottawa hopes its often inactive goalie can follow up his second win of 2010 with a third. With the Senators facing elimination in Game 5 against Pittsburgh on Thursday night, Leclaire set a franchise record with 56 saves in his first career playoff start.
“It’s definitely the most exciting hockey game I’ve been part of,” Leclaire said Friday.
The Senators’ 4-3 win in triple overtime against the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins kept Leclaire’s family up into the wee hours.
Matt Carkner(notes) kept the Senators’ season alive when he scored the winning goal 7:06 into the third overtime, setting up a return trip to Ottawa for Game 6 on Saturday night. The Penguins lead the series 3-2.
“My phone was exploding once I got in the dressing room.” Carkner said. “It was pretty funny. Everyone who is on my contact list was sending me messages.”
Back in the Canadian capital, the Senators took a day off from the rink after the longest game in franchise history.
“To be honest, it was a pretty quiet bus ride back to the airport and it was a pretty subdued plane ride,” Ottawa coach Cory Clouston said. “The guys were tired, first of all, but I think they understand that that game is over and done with and now we’ve got to refocus for (Saturday) night. That’s what the meeting was all about this morning.”
It was Ottawa’s second overtime win in three games in Pittsburgh. The Senators lost their first two games at home.
“It being the playoffs, we knew they were going to play their best last game and we expect nothing less (Saturday),” Penguins forward Matt Cooke(notes) said. “So we have to worry about ourselves and make sure we are ready to play.”
Drafted eighth overall by Columbus in 2001, Leclaire had a career year with nine shutouts for the Blue Jackets in the 2007-08 season, going 24-17-6 with a 2.25 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage.
Expected to be the Senators’ starting goalie this season, Leclaire had an uneven start and was unable to seize control of the No. 1 position. That job was taken by Elliott.
Sitting as the backup, Leclaire broke his jaw when he was struck on the bench by an errant puck. Not long after he returned to the lineup, he sustained a concussion and was again sidelined while Elliott cemented his hold on the position during the Senators’ team-record, 11-game winning streak before the Olympic break.
Seldom used down the stretch, Leclaire finished the regular season with a 12-14-2 record, a 3.20 goals-against-average and a .887 save percentage.
“You try to work hard in practices and take it day by day,” Leclaire said. “Our situation hasn’t really changed that much from last night. We still have to win to stay alive and that’s our main focus right now.”
With only one other victory to his credit since beating the New York Islanders 3-2 in a shootout on New Year’s Eve, Leclaire will be looking to make it two wins in a row against a dangerous Penguins lineup led by Sidney Crosby(notes).
Crosby, who tied for the NHL lead with 51 goals during the regular season, has been so strong in this series that he added to his point total with another assist during Friday’s off day.
The Penguins’ 22-year-old captain has 14 points through five games, one more than his previous best in a playoff series set last season against Washington in seven games.