An Improbable Run: The Cinderella Sens

It’s nothing short of miraculous. The Ottawa Senators have defied logic, stared down the eyes of defeat and achieved the improbable.

Their astounding late-season sprint from tank to triumph could make a nonbeliever attest to religion, faith and destiny all in one.

Cinderella, herself, would be speechless, jaw unhinged and eyes wide open at Ottawa’s impossible run to the playoffs.

 

Maybe it’s just simply meant to be.

For a team to go from fifth last in the league to clinch a postseason birth on the last day of the season, it’s unimaginable. On Feb. 10, the Senators were 14 points behind the final wild card holder Boston Bruins and dropping closer and closer to the bottom of the standings one day after another. Both goalies, Robin Lehner and Craig Anderson, were out long-term and Ottawa was forced to use call-ups from the AHL and ECHL.

Enter Andrew Hammond: the one with the glass slipper.

His AHL numbers were subpar, to say the least. Actually, they were absolutely atrocious. With a save percentage of .898 and a goals against average of 3.51, Senators fans were licking their chops at the opportunity to worsen their record and improve their draft pick. Hammond had other plans, though.

After a surprising defeat of the Montreal Canadiens in his first ever start in the NHL, Hammond picked up another win against the Florida Panthers. And just like that, he also had his first winning streak.

Then, with the help of Hammond’s impressive 174-minute shutout streak, the Senators strolled out of their three-game California road trip with six points. With a five-game winning streak under their belt, the playoffs weren’t looking so far-fetched anymore. They had conquered Death Valley and all of a sudden were examining the probabilities of a playoff spot.

After the winning continued and word spread of the Cinderella Sens making a mad dash for the postseason, there was finally a bump in the road.  The dream looked to be slipping away.

Following a heart-breaking shootout loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs that had everyone preparing the proverbial coffin the Senators were likely to be laying in soon, the Pittsburgh Penguins were in the midst of hammering in the nails, closing the lid to Ottawa’s playoff hopes once and for all.

And they were oh, so close.

With only two more games left in the regular season, the Senators saw themselves down 3-0 to the Penguins nearing the end of the second period. But just when all seemed lost, the – dare I say it – Pesky Sens intervened.

score situations
(Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

Jean-Gabriel Pageau tallied a shorthanded goal on a lucky bounce off a Pittsburgh defender and suddenly Ottawa had life. After Mark Stone had cut the lead to one 34 seconds into the third period, Mike Hoffman, with the Senators net empty, added some late game heroics, blasting a wrist shot by a screened Marc-Andre Fleury with just over a minute left in the game.

Stone – a rookie with a flair for the dramatic – then took it upon himself to end the game in overtime. And the rest is history.

Stories like this come around once in a lifetime. The Senators went 21-3-3 down the stretch and barely squeaked in a postseason birth. The city of Ottawa – mocked for its reputation of often poor attendance and lack of enthusiasm while attempting to support the local hockey team – is now reenergized.

Over 11,000 people marched into the Canadian Tire Centre on Saturday to essentially watch a regular season game on a TV, albeit an extremely large one. Excitement like this hasn’t engulfed the team since the mid 2000’s when the Senators were the envy of the NHL.

In what’s looking like a rematch for the ages, the Senators will take on the Canadiens in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and maybe the CTC will be opened a couple more times for fans to gather and watch their team on the road like they did countless times many years ago.

***

You couldn’t kill the Ottawa Senators if you had a loaded rifle to their head; they just wouldn’t die. Every single day it felt like the run finally had to come to an end. It had dragged on for too long and someone had to put a stop to the madness. But they refused to quit.

The Senators run was like watching the Los Angeles Kings come back from a 3-0 series deficit behind the San Jose Sharks, only to win four straight games and achieve the unimaginable.

Except it happened over, and over, and over again.

And they’re still not done.

YouTube player