For an instant, Alex Auld stole a quick peek at the stick he had just lost.
It lay just out of reach, perhaps a foot from his grasp, slightly behind him at his right post.
But Auld knew that as close as it might have been, there was no way he could take his eyes off the play and retrieve his equipment.
"You can't lose focus on the puck," said Auld (24 saves), who could have called for the sticks of Zdeno Chara or Andrew Ference, both on the ice at the time. "I didn't want to grab a [defenseman's] stick, especially Z's, because it's so valuable to him and his reach is so long."
It just so happened that a few moments later, Jason Spezza scored his second goal of the night, slamming a shot past Auld at 8:19 of the third period that turned out to be the winning strike in Ottawa's 3-2 triumph before 14,874 at TD Banknorth Garden last night. The Senators extended their lead over the Bruins to 8 points in the Northeast Division and Eastern Conference.
"It certainly shows you where we are right now," coach Claude Julien said of the showdown against the best club in the East, which was without three key cogs - forwards Mike Fisher (abdominal strain) and Patrick Eaves (shoulder separation) and defenseman Anton Volchenkov (broken finger). "We still have some work to do. We had a great first period, but we didn't have 60 minutes of that. It seemed like we weren't completing our plays. It was a little sloppy."
Spezza scored the third-period goal after fourth-line center Vladimir Sobotka was tagged with a double minor for high-sticking ex-Bruin Shean Donovan in the face at 5:37, drawing blood on the play. Boston's penalty-killing unit of Chara, Ference, P.J. Axelsson, and Glen Metropolit was on the ice from the start, preventing Ottawa from threatening the goal for the first 2:30 of the power play.
But after a goalmouth scramble left Auld without his stick, the Senators pushed the puck around the wall to Daniel Alfredsson at the right point. The captain saw a passing lane open between the fatigued penalty killers across the ice, and he fired a pass to Spezza at the left post. Spezza fanned on his first attempt, but he made sure to bury the puck with his second swing.
"I thought we actually did a fairly good job of keeping it to the outside," said Ference. "But with four minutes, you're obviously going to get an opportunity to get a couple chances. It was actually a pretty good penalty kill up until the second whack at the puck."
Milan Lucic got the goal back with 1:16 remaining in regulation, and with an extra attacker on the ice, the Bruins put pressure on the Ottawa defense, even to the point where Julien thought a Senator purposely pushed the net off its moorings. But the Bruins were victimized by their inability to sustain their first-period energy for the entire match.
In the opening period, Chuck Kobasew sprang Marco Sturm for a shorthanded breakaway. Martin Gerber stopped Sturm's initial shot, but the netminder's backward momentum took him and the puck over the goal line at 3:43. However, referee Paul Devorski ruled he had lost sight of the puck, rendering the play dead.
After Spezza netted the opening goal at 12:25 of the first period, Kobasew evened the score by cashing in a partial breakaway for his team-best 13th goal at 14:40. Late in the period, Peter Schaefer also had a partial breakaway that Gerber (11 first-period saves, 26 total) stuffed.
In the second period, Ottawa took advantage of the disappearance of Boston's legs, as defenseman Luke Richardson joined an odd-man rush and scored his first goal of the year at 10:38, giving his club a 2-1 lead that Spezza would pad a period later.
The Senators gave the Bruins four power plays, but Boston managed only three total shots, failing to score on any of the man-advantages.
"Our power play has to be a little better," said Julien, who didn't name names but seemed to point his finger at the pointless pair of Marc Savard and Glen Murray. "That's been a bit of a concern. Your best players have to be your best players. Clearly tonight, they weren't. And that kind of took away from our chances of winning also."
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.