NEW YORK – His skate hit a rut. Suddenly, Andrew Hammond was on his side in his crease, flailing to get into a position to save any New York Rangers’ power-play chance that might attempt to catch him in a vulnerable position.
Kevin Hayes collected the puck to Hammond’s right, and prepared to fire. Hammond twirled his body like he was on flattened cardboard next to a boom box.
Hammond thrust out his pads and, with his mask facing the back of the net, made the save with his right pad.
“I think the most important thing is to try to keep your eye on the puck. I never give up on a play, and just try to get whatever body part I can on it,” he said.
“I wouldn’t say I necessarily saved it, but I got in position enough to save it.”
And so he did, as he did 26 other shots in the Senators’ 3-0 win on Thursday night.
But that one … that one stood out. “Grade-A,” according to Rangers coach Alain Vigneault. In many ways, it was a microcosm of what Hammond’s given the Senators during this miraculous rally for a playoff berth.
There are two goalies that have posted extraordinary records in leading their teams back from the brink of despair to a playoff seed this season: Hammond, whose record is now a startling 19-1-2 on the season; and Devan Dubnyk, the Minnesota Wild netminder who is 27-8-2.
They’re a study in contrasts. Dubnyk is a talented, tall (6-foot-6) goalie that appears to have finally unlocked his potential as a former first-round pick through good coaching and a great team in front of him. He’s sturdy and technically proficient, a model of calm that Minnesota desperately needed between the pipes. He has a .938 save percentage and a 1.73 goals-against with the Wild – basically Carey Price numbers after his trade from Arizona.
Hammond is shorter than his listed 6-foot-1, and an undrafted free agent from Bowling Green. Dubnyk had shown some potential while playing with the Edmonton Oilers. Hammond, meanwhile, was an AHL newbie this season and did nothing to distinguish himself – .910 save percentage, 2.81 GAA.
But after Ottawa’s goaltending was hit with injuries, it was Hammond’s turn to get the call, and he’s refused to give up the crease, becoming a cult hero to Senators fans. They chucked burgers on the ice in the "Hamburglar's" honor, and wore burglar masks to the games. He became the face of the Senators' playoff rally - previously anonymous, now ubiquitous.
His run with the Senators has seen him shut down opponents, and has seen his team bail him out on nights when he hasn’t had the mojo. He’s unorthodox and frantic where Dubnyk is steady. Despite the Hamburglar that adorns his mask, he hasn’t stolen a majority of his wins. But his numbers are on par with that of the Wild goalie: .939 save percentage, 1.82 GAA.
But sometimes it’s not how many saves you make, but when you make them. On Tuesday, when the Senators won their most important game of the season against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Hammond was lit up for three goals in the first period. He didn’t allow another, which allowed the Senators to rally and defeat the Pens in overtime.
On Thursday night at MSG, Hammond’s accidental save on Hayes kept the game scoreless. Twenty seconds later, Clarke MacArthur gave the Senators a 1-0 lead, followed by a second goal just 1:04 after that by Kyle Turris.
“It’s unbelievable. Hammy makes that stop, we come back the other way and score two. It changes the whole momentum of the game,” said Turris.
After falling down in his crease and making a save he didn’t intend to make.
“It’s [just] finding a way,” said Turris. “I’ve never seen a guy come in and make an impact like that and changes the season around.”
For Hammond, the win at MSG was personal. The last time he faced the Rangers, they chased him with five goals on 22 shots in a March 26 loss – the lone time Hammond’s been pulled during this run.
“Yeah, I took it a little bit personally getting pulled against them,” he said.
But it was an important shutout for Hammond, too. Two of his last three games weren’t his best, giving up three-spots to the Capitals and Penguins.
“I don’t think my confidence has wavered too much. There are some nights you get the bounces. Other nights that you don’t,” he said.
He’s gotten the bounces more often than not during this run, and now the Senators have bounced the Bruins out of a playoff spot that they now inhabit. One point gained by Ottawa, or lost by the Bruins, in Saturday’s season finales gives the Senators a playoff berth – completing this 22-4-4 journey on which Ottawa has taken its fans, one that began when the team was 14 points outside of the playoffs in early February.
Thursday night’s win was enough to make Hammond check the standings in the morning.
“Not see where we are,” he said, “but to see how the other teams did and how that affects us.”
The other teams did their part. Ottawa controls its playoff fate.
“We’re fortunate to be playing Game 82, and have it mean something. If you had told us a month or two ago that we’d be in this situation, we’d take it,” said Hammond.
MORE FROM YAHOO HOCKEY