The Senators, who have a 3-1 lead against the Montreal Canadiens in the teams' Eastern Conference Quarterfinal, have weathered a storm of drama and distractions through four games, largely because of their coach.
"He's a leader, and everyone in this room respects him," goaltender Craig Anderson said. "He just has a calming effect when he speaks. He knows how to show video and how to talk to get guys to listen. He's great at getting guys to change their behavior."
The Senators have had a roller-coaster season. The club lost first-line center Jason Spezza in January after he herniated a disc in his back, and Spezza's left wing, Milan Michalek, missed 25 games with a knee injury. The loss of Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Erik Karlsson in February to a partially severed Achilles tendon seemed insurmountable, but MacLean refused to let his team throw in the towel.
"All of our coaching staff has done a good job of keeping us focused and ready to go, even through injuries," forward Chris Neil said. "After Spezza, Michalek and then Karlsson got hurt, MacLean came in and said, 'Don't feel sorry for [yourselves].' It was an opportunity for other guys to step up and play. I think that's the biggest thing: He has confidence in everyone in this room. Even the guys sitting out, he has confidence in them. If they're going in the lineup, they're going in for a reason, and that's because they can play on an elite level where we're at. I think the confidence he shows in us helps us to have confidence in him."
That positive attitude has helped the Senators' younger players flourish, even in stressful situations such as the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In Game 4, Mika Zibanejad struggled with play through the first period, and Cory Conacher committed a turnover that led to a goal by Alex Galchenyuk in the second.
"I thought [Conacher and Zibanejad] were inconsistent earlier on in the game, but at the same time, you can't get caught up in that," MacLean said. "It's a long game. Once we started to establish our game, they're important players and we wanted to give them an opportunity to get back out there."
After some line juggling, Zibanejad and Conacher answered the call. Zibanejad got the Senators on the board in the third with the club's first goal, and Conacher scored with 22.6 seconds left in the third period to push the game to overtime.
"Those times when I've been coming off [my game], [MacLean] has just reminded me how I'm supposed to play and what I'm supposed to do," Zibanejad said. "Now I feel like I'm starting to know what it takes to be successful, and it's been really good for me."
Despite any growing pains, MacLean admits he's been willing the give his young players more chances simply due to the high level of skill they can provide.
"That's the way I am," MacLean said. "Since I've been [coach], this team has been in a rebuild. When I got the job, that's how it was described [to me]. So I've felt we were a team of opportunity for young players from that day forward. The leadership core that we have here, it's easier to let young players have chances when you have those types of people you can lean on and teach them. Also, the quality of the players we have in the lineup is very high. The work that the scouting staff has done allows us to put these players in the lineup -- they're good players. That makes it easier for us to continue to put them back on the ice and give them that opportunity. If they weren't good players, we probably wouldn't put them back on the ice. I think that's all part of the equation."
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