Life is good for the new-look Senators
May, 10, 2013
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com
MONTREAL -- Years ago, in another era for the Ottawa Senators, they were the talented team that found ways to lose.
Now, they're the team that refuses to die.
The old Senators, loaded with the likes of Zdeno Chara, Marian Hossa, Martin Havlat, Daniel Alfredsson, Chris Phillips, Wade Redden and Mike Fisher, somehow never got their bang for their buck, talentwise. They always lost to the rival Toronto Maple Leafs, always left you wanting more.
Today's Senators, born out of the surprising team that made the postseason last year and pushed the New York Rangers to seven games, and further transformed this season by a ridiculous injury list that should have ended their chances -- well, these guys just find a way.
They are forging a reputation as a team with tremendous character.
Two different eras for this organization, two vastly different teams.
"You're right," the veteran Phillips said when provided with that context and question. And he should know, being in his 15th NHL season -- all spent in Ottawa.
"I look back at my own career and the time I've been in Ottawa, there's a few years there that you look up and down the lineup and you think, 'We have a really good chance here.' And we didn't get very far at all. This year, it's been about proving people wrong. I got to say, it feels pretty good."
It felt mighty good Thursday night in Montreal as the Senators wrapped up a five-game, first-round win over the Canadiens, with the Senators players overheard singing "Ole, Ole, Ole" as they triumphantly entered the visitors room at the Bell Centre after a 6-1 win.
AP Photo/Ryan RemiorzVeteran Chris Phillips once again has good reason to celebrate in the postseason.
Perhaps a little mocking gesture after a supercharged, emotional series with the rival Habs.
For the Senators, it was their first playoff series win since their 2007 trip to the Cup finals.
It’s been awhile.
"It has been," said Alfredsson, the team's captain. "Everyone knows the story about our team, going to the [Cup] finals in '07, and struggling for a few years and then really changing the whole makeup of the team and going in a new direction. Last year was a great learning curve for a lot of the guys just to get into the playoffs.
"Now continuing and building on that, we believe in what we do. We know we're not going to be pretty every night, but we seem to find a way -- and we always believe."
It cannot be ignored, of course, that the Senators took advantage of an injury-depleted Habs team to help secure their first-round win. That's not to say they would not have won otherwise, but it sure didn't hurt.
Montreal in this series would lose center Lars Eller; captain Brian Gionta; center Ryan White; inspirational leader Brandon Prust; and, of course, star goalie Carey Price, who couldn't finish Game 4 after suffering an apparent knee injury and being ruled out for the rest of the series.
First-line winger Max Pacioretty revealed afterward he was playing through a bum shoulder as well.
The Habs were the walking wounded.
It's too bad, because a healthy Canadiens lineup would have given the Senators a tougher test, probably worthy of a seven-game series.
"It's no excuse, it's the playoffs and everyone is banged up," Pacioretty said in refusing to let himself and his team off the hook, despite the injuries.
And don't expect any violins on the Ottawa side for the poor Habs.
For the Senators, the reversal of injury fortunes is proof that the hockey gods do indeed exist.
Their season written off by so many people because of their own seemingly crippling injuries during the regular season -- Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson, No. 1 center Jason Spezza, star goalie Craig Anderson, top-four blueliner Jared Cowen, winger Milan Michalek -- the Senators got all of their guys back (save for Spezza) late in the season and transformed themselves from a team worthy for a seeding far exceeding No. 7 in the East.
Think back to when Karlsson & Co. were all out with long-term injuries. Imagine their reaction had somebody told them they'd be in the second round of the playoffs a few months later. Think any player on the team would have believed that a true possibility?
"Not likely," Alfredsson admitted. "But not out of the question, either."
Alfredsson talked about a conversation he had with Senators head coach Paul MacLean after the injuries to Karlsson and Michalek in the Pittsburgh game early in the season.
"I remember talking with Mac, and he talked about whether he should address the situation with the team, because we were missing everybody. He just came in and said, 'We have a lot of good hockey players right here. We can't do anything about anything else, we got to believe in ourselves.' Once we started to win some games there, we got confidence."
Francois Laplante/NHLI/Getty ImagesLongtime Senator Daniel Alfredsson remains a cornerstone in Ottawa.
Chapeau to Mr. MacLean. He sure knows how to coach. And he kept the team's spirit and focus in line despite what seemed to everyone else like a hopeless situation earlier this season.
Player by player, the AHL call-ups became NHL regulars. And, astonishingly, it worked.
"The job that our scouting staff has done in finding players that are out on the ice playing for us now, I get lots of credit for playing these young players and having these young players in these situations, but believe me, if they're not good young players -- if they're not good enough -- we wouldn't be in this situation," said MacLean, crediting general manger Bryan Murray and scouting gurus Pierre Dorion and Tim Murray, along with the rest of the staff.
"Their ability to find solid hockey players, that's the reason why the Ottawa Senators are here today in the second round," the head coach said.
Well, there's another major reason, of course.
"Our goaltending probably was the best in the league this year," Alfredsson said. "That gave us some confidence that we don't have to be perfect out there. We seemed to always find a way, and that's a good feeling."
Craig Anderson was superb this season and would have been nominated for the Vezina Trophy had he not missed a significant amount of time due to injury. Ben Bishop was terrific before getting dealt to Tampa, and what should scare everyone else in the league is that young backup Robin Lehner might be even better than Anderson when all is said and done.
"A lot of times I talk with my coaching staff and also my boys around the cottage and I say, 'We should change the game [name] of hockey to goalie,'" MacLean said. "Because that makes the difference. And I think for our team, Craig Anderson was the MVP of this playoff series.
"He was outstanding in every game. He gives us a chance to bend but not break. And gives us a chance to recover and get our bearings. And once we do that, we seem to be able to establish our game, and I think he's a big part of it."
Come to think of it, when recalling those old Senators teams of the late 1990s and early 2000s, goaltending was often a part of their downfall.
So there's another wrinkle between eras.
The best part for Senators fans is that well-respected holdovers from those old teams like Alfredsson and Phillips now get to enjoy a different feeling.
It's nice to win when you're not expected to.
It's nice to overachieve.
It's nice to prove people wrong, as Phillips said.
It rocks to be the new Senators.