VANCOUVER – Senators rookie Cody Ceci is trying to help his team by helping his own cause.
Ceci’s second-period goal stood up as the winner as the Ottawa Senators downed the Vancouver Canucks 4-2 before a disappointed crowd of more than 50,000 people Sunday in the NHL Heritage Classic.
“It means a lot,” said Ceci, a 20-year-old Ottawa native. “These are points that we need right now going down the stretch, and it means a lot to me. I’m just trying to earn my spot here.”
The Senators (27-23-11) posted their first win in three games and kept pace in the race for the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. The Canucks (28-25-10) suffered their ninth loss in 10 games and remained on the bubble in their quest for eighth in the Western Conference.
Ceci put the Senators ahead 3-2 midway through the second. The defenceman moved up, took a pass from Jason Spezza, and fired home a shot from right wing on a three-on-two rush.
He helped the Sens make a classic comeback as they produced four unanswered goals after trailing 2-0 in the first five minutes. The score was tied 2-2 after the first period before Ceci decided the outcome in the second and Greening closed out the scoring in the third.
“I think it was huge that we tied the game before going into the intermission,” said Ceci. “That was big for us, just because we’ve had it tough lately before the (Olympic) break and the game right after it.”
The Senators bounced back from a humiliating 6-1 home loss to Detroit on Thursday in their first game after the Olympic break. Ceci went minus-2 in the loss.
“It’s great to be young,” said Senators coach Paul MacLean. “They have short memories.”
Both of Ceci’s goals this season have been game-winners. He led the Sens to a win over St. Louis in mid-December.
Clarke MacArthur, Erik Karlsson and Colin Greening, into an empty net with 1:33 left in the game, also scored for Ottawa.
Jason Garrison and Zack Kassian scored for the Canucks before Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson shut them out the rest of the game. Anderson, who appeared to have little difficulty playing in a stadium venue with different lighting than a traditional arena, posted his 20th win of the season, recording 29 saves as Vancouver outshot the Sens 31-28.
MacLean praised Anderson for making difficult saves look easy, but the goaltender’s calm demeanour between the pipes defied how he actually felt at the outset of the game.
“It was one of those things where you have the butterflies going and the nerves going,” he said. “Everything’s just a little bit different than your usual normal routine.…It’s a big win for us and it’s a great venue and it’s one of those things that we’ll be smiling about for while, because it’s kind of a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Canucks goalie Eddie Lack, who appeared to be fighting the puck at times and gave up more rebounds than usual, suffered the loss as he drew his third consecutive start following the NHL’s Olympic break. Nominal No. 1 Roberto Luongo watched from the bench while sporting a toque and replica vintage pads and gloves.
Vancouver coach John Tortorella spent much of his post-game news conference talking about his goaltending decision rather than Vancouver’s continued scoring struggles, which were made worse by Daniel Sedin’s departure due to injury in the second period.
“Before this game, the way Eddie was playing, I thought (he) was our best chance to get these two points,” said Tortorella.
Fans chanted for Luongo during the game but Tortorella, who said he didn’t notice the crowd activities, stuck with Lack. The coach said Luongo was angry about the decision, but believes the veteran goaltender will use the sit-down as motivation.
“I thought (Lack) looked not himself, but he made some big saves, too,” said Tortorella. “I’m sure he’d like to have that third one back.”
The game was designed as a tribute to the 1915 Stanley Cup final series between the eventual-champion Vancouver Millionaires and Ottawa Senators. The Canucks wore maroon and cream-coloured replica Millionaires jerseys while the Senators sported duds similar to those of their predecessors.
Coaches wore varsity-styled jackets rather than their usual suits.
“It was a pretty cool setting, just to have that many people watch the game, and it was loud all game long,” said Ceci. “We were in Vancouver, but there was a lot of Ottawa fans, so it’s good to see fans come out all that way.”
The NHL’s outdoor series was forced to go indoors as the B.C. Place Stadium roof was closed due to rain. The weather teased Vancouver and Ottawa players who had hoped the roof would remain open.
“I was glad (organizers) had the option to close it, because it probably would have ruined the game if it was raining out,” said Spezza. “The ice got bad as it was with it closed.”
While the main goal was to get two points, Spezza enjoyed playing the role of spoiler before the large crowd.
“There was so much hype around the game and so much talk about it,” he said. “It’s nice to get the win. It makes it more enjoyable for everybody, our families included. We don’t have to tippy-toe around tonight.”
Spezza, who provided a nifty backhand pass on Ceci’s winning goal, hopes the win is also the start of Ottawa’s march to the playoffs.
“We had a tough one against Detroit,” he said. “It was a very important game, and we knew that we needed this one.”
Tortorella felt the loss of Daniel Sedin, who was hurt in a collision with Ottawa defenceman Marc Methot affected his team offensively because lines had to be juggled.
His twin brother Henrik was less than pleased with the outcome.
“That’s a game we should have won,” he said.
Notes: Canadian music star Sarah McLachlan sang the national anthem.…Members of the 1994 Canucks team that reached the Stanley Cup final and Canada’s 2014 Olympic gold-medal-winning women’s hockey squad were saluted before the game.…NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was in attendance.…The stadium’s field was covered with fake snow and featured vintage Vancouver and Ottawa logos.