The Ottawa Senators won’t make it out of the first round. Even if they do, there’s no chance they’ll still be playing come the Eastern Conference Finals.
These are things that the Ottawa Senators and their fanbase have heard all season long. Despite this, the team competed hard each and every game and worked their way to the postseason. It’s been a testament to their mental toughness as a cohesive unit, but it hasn’t yet earned them the respect of critics league-wide.
A team with an internal salary cap, the Senators have always needed to fight for every bit of recognition they get. Even pulling ahead of the pack and finishing in second-place in a crowded Atlantic Division wasn’t enough for the Senators to earn the respect of fans and media alike.
Despite the doubt from naysayers, the Senators have done their part to silence the outside noise and compete night in and night out. With a first-round matchup against the Boston Bruins — a team that finished the season lower in the standings than the Senators and whom Ottawa swept 4-0 in the regular season’s series — the Senators somehow found themselves as underdogs. Nothing new to the Senators and the team refused to let the underdog tagline define them.
Bouncing the Boston Bruins
It wasn’t exceptional play that catapulted the Senators past the Bruins. The play wasn’t flashy and they didn’t blow out their opponents in black and gold. Instead, they played a calculated game that saw them come out ahead in four of six one-goal games to advance to the second-round.
On paper, the Bruins didn’t look to be much better than the Senators. In fact, the Senators looked to have the advantage with Boston dealing with numerous injuries. Putting the rest of the league on notice, the Senators proved that they didn’t simply qualify for the playoffs by fluke.
By the end of the series, the Senators showed that they could step up. Whether it was Bobby Ryan’s sudden surge or Erik Karlsson showing that, unlike many stars, his performance didn’t falter and actually improved on the big stage, the Senators looked like prime time players early on in the 2017 playoffs.
It’s often said that every playoff game can come down to one goal. For the Senators, playing close until the very end was the story of their series against Boston. Each of the six games was decided by just one goal and the Senators were simply better equipped to withstand that type of close game than the Bruins.
Taking Care of the Rangers
Discounting the Senators has been a common trend this season. Regardless of what the team seems to do, pundits and critics quickly find a way to dismiss it. Advancing to the second round of the postseason still wasn’t enough to change the tune of those very same critics and the New York Rangers were the favorites heading into the series.
Similar to how they handled the first series against the Bruins, the Senators managed to systematically take down the Rangers in six games. The team did show some chinks in their armor as they lost back-to-back games by a score of 4-1 while allowing 17 goals from games two to five. Still, minimizing the damage and winning two of those games, the Senators showed that they could win low-scoring and high-scoring affairs.
This didn’t change the narrative heading into the Conference Finals, though. Facing off against the defending Stanley Cup Champion-Pittsburgh Penguins, the Senators were once again decided underdogs entering the series.
Silencing Critics in Game 1
Though the Senators are led by superstar defender Erik Karlsson, the distinct lack of additional star power stands out. This isn’t to say the team doesn’t boast some very talented players, including Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman, Kyle Turris and more. In a league driven by star names, however, the Senators don’t stand out the way the Pittsburgh Penguins do.
A lineup that features Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel among others, the Penguins have a lineup that features solid depth led by bonafide superstars. Still, the Senators weren’t going to go quietly into that good night.
After winning the first game of the series by a score of 2-1, the Senators set the tone for the series. A low-scoring, tight game was likely going to be the story throughout the duration — ideal for the game the Senators prefer to play. Despite being criticized for their trap game, the Senators know that it has provided results when the team has needed them the most.
Losing Game 2 & Shifting in Game 3
The trap game doesn’t always work in the NHL — if it did, the Senators would never lose a game and every team would try to replicate the model. Because the Senators try to mitigate damage offensively, they are often playing a defensive-style game regardless of the score. The result in Game 2 was a 1-0 loss that once again brought critics to the forefront of the discussion. Ryan, to his credit, did his part to defend the team’s strategy.
Here is what Bobby Ryan had to say about everyone talking about the Sens style of play being boring. pic.twitter.com/YI9bN9gQ8x
— Shawn McKenzie (@ShawnMcKenzieSN) May 17, 2017
While the Senators may not have anticipated a change in strategy heading into Game 3, the results were significantly different than anyone could have anticipated just 13 minutes into the first period. Four goals were scored about halfway into the period by the Senators and the Penguins were left searching for answers from the very start of the game.
An eventual 5-1 win proved once again that the Senators may not always play an exciting game, but their place in the NHL playoffs is anything but a fluke. Whether it’s a star-power driven performance from Karlsson or a solid team game, the Senators are continuing to prove critics wrong, regardless of how “boring” their system may be.