At what point do the 2016-17 Ottawa Senators stop being the NHL’s version of Rodney Dangerfield?
When do they stop getting treated like the Charlestown Chiefs before this franchise changing moment?
Considering the current climate of the NHL and the fact the Senators will be playing the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 of The Eastern Conference Final at PPG Paints Arena Thursday night, the chances of a Slapshot type game are unlikely. With a trip to the Stanley Cup Final on the line, neither team will risk a trip to the Sin-Bin, so forget a blood-filled line brawl! But one thing you can count on is physicality, passion and excitement because there is simply nothing that compares to a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Speaking of physicality, passion and excitement, those have all been part of of the Sens’ improbable run to being within one game of their first trip to the Stanley Cup Final in ten years and only their second in franchise history. Yes, that last element I mentioned was excitement. There is no argument that the 1-3-1 trap system employed by head coach Guy Boucher is at best like watching paint dry; unless of course you have a sixer of cold beer, some Marley and good tunes. But, there is also no argument it has worked and that in the process of working, has resulted in some nail-biting and exciting moments of this playoff season. The aforementioned physicality and passion has led to seven overtimes, with the Senators winning six of those extra frames, and a 9-4 record for Ottawa in one-goal games.
While some of those games have were low-scoring and not reached that level of actual excitement until the final minutes or in overtime, the Sens did help to combine for six or more goals in three of those six overtime wins. With the exception of their 7-0 loss to the Penguins in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final, they’ve had clutch and generally superb goaltending from Craig Anderson. In addition, they’ve gotten some game-winning goals from some unlikely heroes, the biggest being forward Bobby Ryan, who after an under-achieving and much-maligned regular season, now leads the team with three game-winners and has six goals and 15 points in 18 playoff games.
Of course if we are going to use the word exciting with the team so many call boring, one needs to look no further than the defenseman Brad Park told yours truly after his rookie season, “that kid has some Bobby Orr in him!”, Senators Captain Erik Karlsson. Since these playoffs started, I’ve had the likes of hall of fame puck scribe Russ Conway, who covered Orr’s career better than no other, and many former and current NHLers say the same to me.
“You see how this kid sees the ice and the way he knows where the puck needs to go?” Conway asked me recently. “You see the way he gets it to that point? That’s what Bobby did every game. This kid has that! I’m not saying he’s the next Bobby or anything, I’m just saying he has that gift.”
Conway’s absolutely right and for the majority of the National media and so many hockey fans to continually acknowledge that but not acknowledge the gift Karlsson and his teammates have given not only Sens fans but NHL fans, is simply disrespectful. So what if the 1-3-1 doesn’t replicate your latest battle with your buddy on NHL 17 or 94 if you’re going retro! The Senators aren’t playing for ratings or to satisfy the flashy crowd, they’re playing to win the Stanley Cup.
There was a team in 1993 that played two hours east of Ottawa and whose run to the Stanley Cup resembled the run the Senators are on and they are still hailed in many NHL circles. This current Sens team doesn’t have the star power of that Montreal Canadiens team that hoisted the Habs’ last Stanley Cup, nor will the Senators organization or any other NHL team ever reach the storied levels of glory Montreal has. However, they still have a chance to play for the Stanley Cup and will do so with a win in Pittsburgh Thursday night.
Bad teams, no matter how many lucky breaks or injuries to the opposing teams they meet along the way, don’t get this chance. You have to be at least good to get to this point. That’s why it’s time for all the detractors of their style and the fans whose teams lost to the Sens on their run to this point, to admit and respect the fact, the Ottawa Senators are a good team. Win or lose in Game 7 Thursday, not even Aretha Franklin can take that respect away!