Dan Di Sciullo, NHL Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
The Stanley Cup playoffs are always full of surprises, but few people can say they predicted the Ottawa Senators' effortless charge to the Eastern Conference championship.
The Senators were by no means an underdog in the playoffs, as they came into the tournament seeded fourth in the East after gaining 105 points during the regular season. Ottawa has crumbled under high expectations in past postseasons, but is making up for those disappointments this year.
Ottawa has made it to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in franchise history, and the ease at which the Senators have reached the final stage is nothing short of stunning. In fact, the impressive run through the Eastern Conference playoffs has transformed the Senators into the favorites to win Lord Stanley's Cup.
The Senators have won each of their three playoff series this year in five games, making quick work of Pittsburgh, New Jersey and Buffalo. The last series against the Sabres was especially surprising considering Buffalo was the top seed in the East and this year's Presidents' Trophy winner. The Sabres accomplishments did little to slow down Ottawa, which jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the set before ultimately sealing the trip to the Cup finals with a 3-2 overtime victory in Game 5 at Buffalo.
Ottawa's dominating run has not just delighted Senators fans, but the nation of Canada as a whole. Canadians everywhere, whether they are from Toronto, Edmonton or Regina, recognize that the Senators have an excellent chance to bring the Cup back to the Great White North for the first time since the Montreal Canadiens won it all in 1993.
It was fitting that winger Daniel Alfredsson, the Sens captain, was the hero in the final game against the Sabres as he scored at 9:32 of overtime to give his club the victory. Alfredsson has played his entire NHL career with the Senators and had to bear a great deal of the criticism when Ottawa underachieved in previous postseasons.
Alfredsson has earned the right to fire back at those critics now, but he has always been a classy player and one that always seems to say the right thing. After Game 5 against the Sabres, the Swedish superstar stayed in the moment and even relished the spotlight a bit.
Daniel Alfredsson was the hero in the final game against the Sabres.
"It's kind of surreal right now," said Alfredsson. "I think we worked really hard for this."
Alfredsson is one-third of an amazing top-line for the Senators and it's that unit that has turned the club into a playoff juggernaut. Alfredsson has set a team record with 10 goals in this postseason, but his 17 total points places him third amongst his linemates in scoring.
Dany Heatley, Alfredsson's fellow winger, is leading the Senators with 21 points (6 goals, 15 assists) and centerman Jason Spezza is second with 20 points on seven tallies and 13 assists. The Senators record for points in a single postseason before this year was 16, a mark set by Marian Hossa in 2003.
While the top line has been the most obvious reason for Ottawa's success this year, the Senators have also benefited greatly from a cohesive team effort on defense. Alfredsson and his linemates have also helped out in that regard, but the lion's share of the credit should go to the team's outstanding defensive corps.
The leader on the blueline for Ottawa is Wade Redden, who like Alfredsson has played his entire NHL career with the Senators. In fact, both Redden and Alfredsson were around in 1997, when Ottawa reached the postseason for the first time.
Redden's veteran leadership helps stabilize a back line that includes excellent offensive defensemen in Joe Corvo and Tom Preissing and a strong physical presence in Anton Volchenkov.
The team's defensive prowess helped limit the Sabres, who led the NHL with 298 goals during the regular season, to just 10 tallies in five games during the East finals.
The play of goaltender Ray Emery has also been a huge bonus for Ottawa, as the 24-year-old backstop has impressed with a 1.95 goals against average, .919 save percentage and three shutouts. Emery has now proven he has the skill to take a team deep into the playoffs after struggling in his first postseason last year.
Watching the Senators perform at such a high level through the first three rounds of the postseason should delight hockey fans around the world. They have shown what can be achieved when a team gels and has total confidence in each and every player on the roster.
If Ottawa continues to play this inspired brand of hockey in the final round then the Cup should find its way back to Canada.