All season long, the Ottawa Senators made a habit of doing just enough to win.
That trend continued in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Senators were outplayed for long stretches of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the Montreal Canadiens but came away with a quick five-game victory with Thursday's 6-1 clincher.
It was Ottawa's first playoff series victory since 2007, and the Senators did it with a healthy mix of solid veterans and young players forced into bigger roles because of injuries over the course of the regular season.
Here are five reasons the Senators are in the second round for the first time in six years:
While it would be too easy -- and wrong -- to say the outstanding performance of Craig Anderson was in fact the only reason the Senators won, it is impossible not to put his dominance at the top of this list. Anderson stopped 171 of 180 shots in the series for a .950 save percentage. That includes 40 saves on 43 shots while shorthanded, a ridiculous save percentage of .930. In addition to keeping the puck out of the net, Anderson's performance gave his team a mental edge in the series.
2. Depth from within
The blessing in disguise from Ottawa's injury situation this season was that young players were rushed into roles they may not have been ready for. They had to develop on the fly. But when the Senators became relatively healthy at the end of the season, they suddenly had a new wave of players who had taken a major step in that development over the course of the previous two months. Jean-Gabriel Pageau got an opportunity in the minors because injuries in Ottawa affected the depth chart of their American Hockey League team in Binghamton. Pageau had five points in the series. Kyle Turris, Zack Smith and Erik Condra grew into important players for the Senators just in time for the playoffs, and rookies Jakob Silfverberg and Mika Zibanejad became solid contributors.
3. A punishing defense
The Senators knew they were facing a speedy Canadiens team, but they also knew it lacked size up front. The solution was to punish the Montreal forwards every chance they got. They did. The Senators' defense is loaded with size, yes, but it is the mobility of their big defensemen that allowed them to keep up with Montreal's speed and force those forwards to pay a physical price. Marc Methot had a tremendous series, and Chris Phillips, Jared Cowen and Eric Gryba also made sure the Canadiens never got a free pass into the Senators' end. The Canadiens wound up battered and bruised, and it was largely because of the play of this group.
Though Canadiens coach Michel Therrien appeared happy with how him team was playing throughout the series, Senators coach Paul MacLean was constantly making subtle adjustments on the fly. One example was how in both Games 1 and 2, MacLean replaced Turris on the top line with Pageau, saying he was playing better so he earned the right to play more. Pageau rewarded his coach with a hat trick in Game 3. Turris also rewarded the tough love with a goal in each of the last three games of the series, including the overtime winner in Game 4. Off the ice, MacLean managed to needle Therrien every chance he got, enraging the Montreal coach with his comments about the Gryba hit on Lars Eller in Game 1.
5. Clutch in the third
Throughout the series, each time it appeared Montreal was gathering momentum, the Senators would cut it off by scoring a goal, especially in the third period. The Senators scored 13 goals in the third period and overtime and didn't allow Montreal to score once. Ottawa won Game 1 by a 4-2 score with three third-period goals and won Game 4 by erasing a 2-0 deficit after 40 minutes and scoring with 22.6 seconds left in regulation to send the game to overtime, where Turris ended it for a 3-2 win. Those six goals after the second intermission essentially won the Senators the series.
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