Playoff clincher is just the beginning for Senators
'Anything can happen' now that Ottawa has booked spot in 2011-12 post-season
And now, with their Stanley Cup playoff ticket officially booked, the Ottawa Senators have an opportunity to add a few more vital building blocks in the weeks ahead.
In the wake of Sunday's playoff-clinching triumph over the New York Islanders, there is a great feeling of satisfaction within the Senators' ranks today — and understandably so. After all, this is a team that entered what was supposed be a building season carrying little in the way of expectations. Few outside the organization saw them as a playoff team yet here they are, with a week still to play in the current campaign and a post-season berth under lock and key.
"We can take a lot of satisfaction in that," head coach Paul MacLean said following Sunday's victory, a game in which the Senators hit the ice without captain Daniel Alfredsson (flu) and top scorer Jason Spezza, who was back in Ottawa with his wife, Jennifer, for the birth of their second daughter, Nicola Patricia, on Sunday morning. "It's a great accomplishment for us as an organization."
That the Senators were able to pull it off without two of their key cogs just added to the lustre of the moment.
"It was two huge guys out, but we're not going to hang our heads and we're not going to make excuses," said veteran defenceman Chris Phillips. "That's what this team is about. It's about (being) a team. That's what it's taken for us to get where we are, everybody stepping up and performing this year."
Added forward Milan Michalek, who enjoyed a three-point day against the Isles: "It was great to see. All the guys, they stepped up, and we stuck with our system. Even when we were one goal down, we stuck with it and it showed us we are a really good team and we can do lots of damage in the playoffs, too."
Now that they've arrived at that point, the Senators intend to do much more than show up. MacLean, the man who orchestrated all of this as a first-year National Hockey League head coach, knows all about the unpredictability of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
"Once you're in the playoffs and you get the opportunity to play, it's difficult," said MacLean, who saw plenty of post-season action as a former Detroit Red Wings assistant. "But when you have the opportunity, anything can happen and sometimes it does. You just have to take it day by day, game by game and get yourself ready for every day."
It's the same philosophy that has served MacLean and the Senators well through the entire season, even as they struggled out of the gate with a 1-5-0 record and allowed 30 goals along the way — a pair of seven-goal "touchdowns," to use MacLean's words, among them.
"I know that in this league, it's always a realistic possibility," MacLean said when asked if, at the season's outset, he believed the Senators could grow into a playoff team. "But I also know that it's real difficult (to get there). What I wanted to do was come in and — like we've said all season long — slowly build a foundation to winning in the future, whenever that future is.
"It it now? I don't know. Is it next year? I'm not sure. The big focus for me was just that, on a daily basis, we did things to get a little bit better. And I think we've done that."
Now comes the payoff, maybe much earlier than a lot of folks thought.
"It's the funnest part of hockey," said centre Kyle Turris, whose four-point day fuelled Sunday's clincher. "To get there — and we've got three games left (in the regular season) to prepare for it going in — we'll be ready."
Following a remarkable shootout that went 13 rounds, the Binghamton Senators outlasted the Hershey Bears 6-5 in American Hockey League play Sunday night. Eric Gryba's goal finally ended the affair, which involved 26 shooters but only produced three goals. B-Sens goaltender Robin Lehner turned aside 12 of 13 attempts he faced in the shootout after making 30 saves during regulation time and OT. Hershey trailed 5-2 early in the third period before ralling to force extra time ... On the strength of a pair of five-point games, Senators prospect Stefan Noesen (7-7-14) leads all scorers through Sunday's action in the Ontario Hockey League playoffs. The Texas-born left-winger and his Plymouth Whalers rallied from a 2-0 series hole to eliminate the Guelph Storm in six games and advance to the Western Conference semifinals. Noesen was one of Ottawa's three first-round selections (21st overall) in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft ... Jakob Silfverberg and Brynas IF are one victory away from advancing to the Swedish Elitserien's playoff final after blanking Farjestads 3-0 on Sunday. Brynas holds a 3-1 lead in the semifinal series and can wrap it up Tuesday night on home ice. Silfverberg, a second-round pick (39th overall) by the Senators in the 2009 NHL draft, currently tops the league's post-season scoring race (7-5-12 in 10 games).