The Ottawa Senators have overcome so much adversity this season. They have lost key players at every position and blooded more than a dozen rookies into their lineup. Yet, somehow, the club found its way into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Much of the credit must be placed at the feet of coach Paul MacLean, who has turned in a performance worthy of the Jack Adams Trophy as the League's best coach. But the players in the lineup have executed MacLean's machinations perfectly, as well.
Ottawa faces a whole new set of challenges as the Stanley Cup Playoffs dawn. The Senators are getting healthy at just the right time, which must be quite the confidence boost for a team that found ways to win without the presence of its stars for long stretches of time. Will it be enough to translate into a long playoff run?
Only time will tell, and the answers to these five questions will play a part:
1. What shape will Erik Karlsson be in?
Last season's Norris Trophy winner spent most of this season recovering from surgery to repair a 70-percent tear in his Achilles tendon. He looked none the worse for wear in his return, playing more than 27 minutes and assisting on both goals in his first game back. The Senators were good enough to make the playoffs without Karlsson, but they need him to play at his usual high level to win in the postseason.
2. How much does Daniel Alfredsson have left?
No player has meant more to the Senators franchise than its longtime captain. Alfredsson had a bounce-back season in 2011-12 but has been among the numerous Ottawa players who've struggled to score this season. Alfredsson missed one game and averaged more than 19 minutes a night, but he's not the offensive threat he used to be. With goals likely to be scarce, a big playoff run from Alfredsson is a must for success.
3. Is Craig Anderson as good as his numbers?
The stats say Anderson has been the NHL's leader in goals-against average and save percentage for much of the season, despite a high ankle sprain that cost him a third of the season. But the only number that counts in the playoffs is victories. Anderson played well in the first round against the favored New York Rangers last spring but couldn't close out the series after Ottawa took a 3-2 lead. If the Senators get the same chance this year, he has to find a way to get that fourth win.
4. How will the kids do under pressure?
One big reason the Senators are still playing is the performance of their young players. All the injuries led to 13 rookies seeing playing time. Mika Zibanejad, Jakob Silfverberg, Patrick Wiercioch and Eric Gryba stepped in and played well. But it's one thing to play well in the regular season and quite another to do it under the glare of the playoffs. Ottawa needs to avoid the nerves that can paralyze young players in the postseason.
5. Can the Senators control the tempo?
Ottawa wants no part of a run-and-gun game. MacLean has his team playing a patient style that can drive opponents crazy. More than half of the Senators' games were decided by one goal. MacLean would likely be happy with a game played along the walls and in the neutral zone, rather than seeing his team trade chances with the opposition. That means good puck management and limiting turnovers will be mandatory for Ottawa to have sustained success.