Chris Neil: The man behind the Ottawa Senators success

On Saturday, the Ottawa Senators took a 3-2 series lead against the New York Rangers in their Eastern Conference play-off semi-final. Kyle Turris’ overtime goal proved to be the deciding factor, but it was Chris Neil who was the difference maker in the Canadian capital. 

Senators veteran Neil, who has spent the entirety of his NHL career in Ottawa after being drafted in the sixth round in 1998, was recalled to the starting line-up by Head Coach Guy Boucher after the Sens lost two matches in a row against the Rangers, despite taking a 2-0 lead in the series.

What was going wrong for Ottawa? Well, they were being bullied off the puck by an aggressive New York Rangers side, particularly by agitator Tanner Glass. Head coach Boucher identified the problem, saying:

“We obviously can’t look like we did for the first two games in New York. Otherwise, we don’t have a chance.”

– Guy Boucher

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The solution? Chris Neil. A man who, despite 15-years at the franchise, had been shunned to the sidelines largely this season. At 37, Neil is approaching the end of his career and the Sens have a host of talented young options to take his place on the forward lines.

“It’s tough to watch when you see guys taking runs at Erik (Karlsson) and other guys on our team. If I’m out there, I can do something about it and if I’m not, I can’t.” – Chris Neil

Boy, did he do something about it. After two games in which the Rangers bullied the Sens and targeted the Norris Trophy winning captain Karlsson, the Sens needed to fight back with aggression. Neil allowed them to do that.

With 3 minutes gone in the second period, the Rangers were 2-1 up and Glass was wreaking havoc once again. Neil had had enough.

In the picture above, you see Chris Neil with Tanner Glass on the floor. Neil took the matter into his own hands and went after Glass. It rejuvenated the Sens players.

“It was clear we needed to answer back some of the liberties they were taking with our skill guys. I thought they felt protected.”

– Guy Boucher

Whilst Glass was given just two minutes for interference, Neil took two for roughing and ten minutes for misconduct. As he came out of the penalty box and back onto the ice, his time mates applauded him with stick taps. They were 3-2 up at this point.

“That’s the best penalty I’ve seen anybody take in a long time. We’ll take that any day. It gives us such a boost. It gets the crowd going.” – Kyle Turris

We’ve previously questioned what has happened to the NHL enforcer? On Saturday, Chris Neil demonstrated that there are still enforcers in the NHL and they are just as effective as ever.

Some, including the National Post in Canada, may argue that it was the Sens’ star men, including Karlsson and Turris, who turned the game on it’s head and not Neil’s antics, but without the enforcer, the star men would not have been able to perform. That very point was demonstrated in the two losses in New York.

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With game six approaching on Wednesday, Chris Neil is sure to keep his place on the Senators’ roster. With his team-mates rejuvenated, his brawl with Tanner Glass may well have won the Ottawa Senators the series.