Every year in the playoffs there are upsets in the first round as a lower seeded team defeats a higher seeded team. On occasion, the upsetting team is able to carry that momentum beyond a single round and become a Cinderella team going all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. And although rather rare, there have been times when such a team has been able to beat the odds to become the Stanley Cup Champions. The Ottawa Senators are hoping for such a magical run this year.
The Ottawa Senators have already enjoyed a season exceeding their expectations. Pegged as early season candidates for the draft lottery, many even predicted they would finish last in the Eastern Conference. Now with two games remaining in the regular season, the Senators have clinched a birth in the post season and are looking at a potential first round match up against the second place (and defending Stanley Cup Champions) Boston Bruins.
What has changed so much from the start of the season to now?
In comparison to the previous season, the Senators have been fortunate to be very healthy. Jason Spezza has been enjoying one of his best seasons of his career in large part to his back being healthy.
Goal-tending is also a vast improvement from the previous campaign as well. Craig Anderson has provided the team with reliable and consistent goal-tending. The addition of Ben Bishop, and the depth of top prospect Robin Lehner combine to provide the franchise with its strongest goal-tending in modern franchise history.
The emergence of several young and key role players on the roster has also provided the Sens with depth. Players such as Zack Smith, Eric Condra, Kaspars Daugavins, and Jared Cowen have gained the confidence in them selves, the trust of the coach, and respect from the league.
Veteran leadership from Captain Daniel Alfredsson, Sergei Gonchar, Jason Spezza, Chris Phillips and Filip Kuba in the locker room and on the ice has been invaluable. Gonchar and Kuba in particular have revitalized their careers this season after being booed by fans during the first home game of the season.
All-Star season from several players such as Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson, Milan Michalek, Erik Karlsson, and Colin Greening are well deserved, while some may suggest the host city stuffed the All-Star ballot box.
Individual performances have also begun to attract award recognition in Coach Paul MacLean for the Jack Adams Trophy as the league top Coach in his first season as a head coach, and Erik Karlsson for the Norris trophy as the league top defenseman.
Despite all of this, the Ottawa Senators are still considered under dogs to win even a single round in the playoffs. Perhaps that is because they seem destined to meet the Bruins in the first round? If so, consider this; The Bruins played a very long playoffs last spring, having played in three game sevens, and are beginning to show signs of fatigue. The injury to Nathan Horton is a serious loss to the scoring depth, and Tim Thomas’s decision to snub the White House has caused a major distraction and possibly upset team chemistry. The last team to win the Cup before the Bruins was the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010; they were defeated in the first round the following year. The team prior to that was the Pittsburgh penguins, and they lost in the second round in an upset to the Montreal Canadiens. History has shown that it is difficult for a team to have consistent success in the playoffs. It is simply a lot of hockey and is very physically demanding.
Why could the Senators be considered as a Cinderella team?
The Sens surprisingly boast plenty of playoff experience with players from their 2007 Stanley Cup Finals appearance in Alfredsson, Spezza, Phillips, and Chris Neil. Sergei Gonchar has a cup ring from the 2009 Penguins Championship. Last season the Sens American Hockey League affiliate Binghamton Senators won the Calder Cup Championship and have had several players graduate from that Championship roster to the NHL Senators roster including, Colin Greening, Jared Cowen, Zack Smith, Colin Greening, Eric Condra, Bobby Butler, and Kaspars Daugavins. Coach Paul MacLean has also won the Stanley Cup as an assistant coach with the Detroit Red Wings in 2008.
The Ottawa Senators have all the ingredients to become a Cinderella contender. They boast elite goal scoring with Spezza, and Karlsson. They have contributing depth and role players in Smith, Nick Foligno, Kyle Turris, Filip Kuba, and Chris Neil, Solid goal-tending with Craig Anderson, leadership and experience, and a rallying player in Daniel Alfredsson. Alfie is beloved by his teammates and the city of Ottawa. His teammates would love nothing more, than to win it for Alfie, the way Ray Bourque rallied the Colorado Avalanche. In what could be his final season at age 39, there is no better story book ending than if he were to be the Captain of the All-Star team in Ottawa, and then be presented with the Stanley Cup as Captain of the Stanley Cup Championship Ottawa Senators by Garry Bettman.
The fact that the Senators will finish seventh or eighth ensures they will be the under dog in any series they play. They have already defied the odds and earned a birth in the playoffs. Can they continue to beat the odds, and go all the way in Cinderella fashion to win a Championship? If the Shoe fits!
Peter Harling of Harling Fantasy Hockey covers the Ottawa Senators for The Hockey Writers. Peter also writes for fantasy hockey coach contributing to the annual draft guide and author of the Fantasy Hockey in Canada column and Hockey Tracker