Bring on the Habs!
Wow! Who could have drawn up this scenario two months ago! A terrific, death defying run to make the playoffs by the skin of their teeth, and as a reward, the hockey gods have granted the Ottawa Senators another chance to put a pounding on their divisional rivals, the Montreal Canadiens. It's almost too good to be true... But, not quite. :)
Two years ago the teams were in similar spots when they met up in the first round of the NHL playoffs. Then, the heavily favoured Canadiens bowed out in just five games to a younger, peskier and much tougher Ottawa Senators hockey club. Lars Eller, pictured, had his bell wrung by big Eric Gryba in Game 2. The hit established the Senators as the dominant team and lead to a throughly entertaining defeat of Ottawa's greatest hockey rival.
Former Sens captain Daniel Alfreddson said at the time that defeating the Habs was the most enjoyable playoff victory of his career. It was the only time the two teams have met in the playoffs since Ottawa's return to the NHL. And, unfortunately, it was Alfreddson's last playoffs in a Sens uniform. Perhaps, it's because the Senators have mended the Alfreddson fence this year that the hockey gods have granted us this second opportunity to impress upon Habs nation and the rest of the hockey world just how good our young hockey club is.
Whatever the reason, round two begins next week and it looks like it's going to be a doozy! Carey Price, arguably the best goalie in hockey, will match up in net against the Hamburglar, Andrew Hammond, Ottawa's rookie sensation goaltender whose exceptional play over the last two months lifted the Sens into a playoff spot. Without Hammond in the net, the Sens improbable regular season finale would never have happened. They needed a rock in net to have any chance of making a run--and they got it--from the unlikeliest of places (our AHL affiliate). Hammond's regular season record now stands at 20-1-2. Not even the great Carey Price had such an auspicious start to his career.
Then there are the Sens rookies lead by Mark Stone, who has carried the team on his back over the last two weeks. If Stone wins Rookie of the Year honours now that he finished the season as the rookie scoring leader, it will be because of the effort he put in to ensure the Senators made the playoffs. His determination, skill and leadership have been exceptional. The emotion he brings to the game, not to mention, his ridiculously long stick, has changed the energy around our team. Stone is both a sniper and a playmaker. One of a kind in my book!
J.G. Pageau has a history of playing well against the Habs, one he established when the two teams met in the playoffs two years ago. Pageau was a late season call up then, just before the playoffs. His hat trick in Game 3 against the Habs set the Palladium ablaze with the sound of 'Pageau, Pageau, Pageau, Pageau' echoing through the rafters.
Sens fans aren't always the most emotional but Pageau, Stone and Hammond have a way of bringing out the best of Ottawa's seventh man. Let's hope the magic these three rookies have brought to Ottawa will continue so the Sens can repeat what they just achieved, winning another 16 games in an improbable run for the Stanley Cup... A trophy the hockey gods have granted us another opportunity to bring back to its rightful home here in the nation's capital.
Go Sens Go!
This blog post was written in loving memory of my late father and Sens-Habs fan, Jim O'Grady, whose handy work of whispering in the ear of his many hockey heroes turned hockey gods in heaven, has left his finger prints all over this result... The Sens in the playoffs and a first round match up vs. the Habs.