With a 3-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday afternoon, the Ottawa Senators officially capped off an improbable 21-3-3 surge to clinch a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
After sitting 10 points out of a playoff spot with a record of 22-23-10 on February 17, the Senators began a run for the ages up the Eastern Conference standings. It was a stretch that no one could have expected, especially out of a group that switched coaches in the middle of the season.
Goaltender Andrew Hammond, the same man who gave up three goals in a 21-second span in Binghamton, was called up due to injuries to both Robin Lehner and Craig Anderson. He started against Montreal on February 18, backstopping the Senators to a 4-2 win over their division rival. What happened after that is a story that couldn’t have been scripted any better.
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Hammond gave up two or fewer goals in each of his first 12 starts for Ottawa, a streak that tied the NHL record of Hall of Fame Boston Bruins goaltender Frank Brimsek for longest start to a career without giving up more than two goals. The Surrey, British Columbia native continued his hot play for Ottawa, leading the team to points in 15 straight games. He ultimately finished the regular season with a record of 20-1-2 with a 1.82 goals against average and a .941 save percentage. Pretty incredible numbers for any goalie, let alone one who was the third-string netminder for a team at the time of his call up.
But despite Hammond’s heroics in net for Ottawa, it wasn’t just him who led Ottawa to place in the NHL’s sweet 16. Fellow rookie Mark Stone has been just as impressive as Hammond throughout the team’s rise. Stone finished the year with 26 goals and 38 assists for 64 points, including a nine-game point streak to close out the regular season. He went from being just another rookie to one deserving of being in the conversation for the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie.
Then there’s head coach Dave Cameron, a man who took over for Paul MacLean in December after the latter was fired due to internal conflicts among players and staff regarding his coaching methods and “likeability“. Cameron was tasked with getting the Senators, a team that had the second-most shots against in the league at the time, back to playing sound defense in addition to providing the leadership behind the bench that the team seemed to lack.
What he did was show an enthusiasm and love for the opportunity he was given. He showed confidence in the players from the start, and they gave it right back to him in the form of how they played on the ice, averaging over three goals a game during the final 27-game push to the playoffs. That’s over half a goal more (2.5) than the 27 games MacLean coached this season. It was a sight that members of the organization as well as fans of the team hadn’t seen since the lockout-shortened 2013 season when they lost in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals.
Now, the Senators await a chance to make a run to their second Stanley Cup Finals appearance in team history. Whether or not they are a team of playoff destiny remains to be seen, but no matter what happens over the next few weeks, no one can deny just how special the run we all just witnessed was.