VANCOUVER — Big saves have been eliciting big reactions from the Ottawa Senators bench lately.
"Whenever we see any of our goalies make a big save, the boys get up on the bench and they're banging their sticks off the boards because they're all fired up they made the save and that's like scoring a goal for us in their mind," said right-winger Drake Batherson. "So we get fired up for them definitely."
The Sens bench was fired up on Thursday as goaltender Matt Murray stopped 31 shots and collected his second shutout of the week as Ottawa blanked the Vancouver Canucks 3-0.
As the final horn rang out across the empty arena, Murray was mobbed by his teammates, all wearing giant grins.
The Senators are simply having fun coming to the rink every day, said Batherson, who had a goal and an assist in the win.
"This road trip has been awesome, getting to know everyone even more on a personal level and just, we're playing as a team. Just having a lot of fun," he said. "You guys can see on the TV, we're super excited whenever anyone does something great, so I think that's the biggest thing. … We want to work hard for each other and for the coaching staff."
Thursday's victory marked the first time this season that the Senators have chalked up three-straight wins in regulation.
Murray also backstopped Ottawa to a 4-0 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday. Thursday's win marked the 26-year-old goaltender's second shutout of the season and the 13th of his career.
It's an exciting time for the group, Murray said.
"I'm really proud of the way that we're growing and learning and the way that we've played the last few games and the way that we're trending. It's awesome to see," he said.
"You know, we're learning all the right lessons and we're definitely pushing in the right direction here, and for me, it's just awesome to see these guys competing and playing the right way and we're getting rewarded for it so I'm really proud of the guys."
It's been a tough season for the Sens (17-26-4). The young squad lingers at the bottom of the North Division standings, a single point behind the Canucks (18-19-3) who have seven games in hand.
But Ottawa is stringing together a late-season run that could see it play spoiler for some Canadian rivals.
Special teams have been a key part of the Senators' recent success. The team has power-play goals in six consecutive outings, including a pair against Vancouver on Thursday.
Batherson put the Sens up 2-0 on the man advantage the end of the opening period.
A puck trickled through the legs of Vancouver's Tyler Myers, stationed at the top of the Canucks crease, and Batherson quickly pounced, firing it in to the yawning net for his 16th of the season.
Josh Norris had an assist on the play, extending his point streak to six games with three goals and six assists across the stretch.
It was Ottawa's second power-play goal of the period. Tim Stutzle was credited with the first 9:17 into the game when Nick Paul's shot from the top of the left face-off circle hit the skate of the rookie as he leapt up in front of the net, pinging off the post and in.
The Sens were 2 for 4 with the man advantage while the Canucks failed to capitalize on four power plays.
Getting the power play going has been a focus of late, said coach D.J. Smith.
"I think we worked on that, we talked a lot on and off the ice to get better," he said. "I mean, in the beginning we were definitely struggling and if you have a good power play I think it always helps a lot."
Connor Brown sealed the 3-0 score with an empty-net strike 18:30 into the third period.
After a shaky opening frame, the Canucks pressed hard Thursday and outshot the Sens 31-25 over the course of three periods.
Murray made some big stops to preserve Ottawa's lead, including a beautiful glove save on Quinn Hughes where he snatched the puck out of mid-air.
Vancouver knew going in that the game would be a tight battle, said coach Travis Green.
“It was exactly the kind of game we thought," he said. "Special teams are big at this time of the year. And 5-on-5 we did a lot of good things the last two periods but we didn’t get a puck across the line, which we needed to, obviously.”
Canucks netminder Thatcher Demko stopped 22-of-24 shots in his first game back after testing positive for COVID-19 in an outbreak that decimated Vancouver's locker room late last month.
“I think I struggled with (COVID). I think a lot of guys did," Demko said. "It’s tough on the body. The biggest thing for me were just the fatigue, the body aches and some of the brain fog stuff that you see in the media.”
He said he's not sure if anyone who fell ill is back to 100 per cent health yet.
"I know COVID took a toll on us," Demko said. "Obviously it’s tough to take that much time off but we’ve got a job to do to come in and win some games here. That’s what everyone’s geared toward and ready to do.”
Vancouver still has a 4-1 edge in the nine-game season series between the two teams.
Thursday's battle was the first in a series of four straight games between the two sides. They'll meet again in Vancouver on Saturday.
NOTES: Stutzle now has 25 points (eight goals, 17 assists) in his first NHL season. … The Senators have power-play goals in six consecutive games. … Green said Thursday that forward Antoine Roussel is expected to miss "a couple of weeks" after suffering a lower-body injury in Tuesday's game with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 22, 2021.