The Ottawa Senators have yet to win the Stanley Cup since joining the NHL in 1992; they've made it as far as the Final only in 2007, when they were beaten in five games by the Anaheim Ducks. They had to scratch and claw for every point this season and made the playoffs despite losing their No. 1 center, top goal-scoring wing, star defenseman and starting goaltender for long stretches of time.
The good news for the Senators is they're getting healthier. Erik Karlsson is back on the blue line; Craig Anderson is healthy and playing well in goal; and Milan Michalek, a 35-goal scorer last season, is back after knee surgery. They'll probably be without No. 1 center Jason Spezza for a while longer -- if he returns at all -- but they enter the playoffs as healthy as they've been all season.
That's a good thing, because the Senators will need depth, especially at forward, to break their Cup drought. But the injuries have given substantial playing time to youngsters -- such as 2011 first-round pick Mika Zibanejad -- who were able to grow into useful roles.
Most important for a team that struggles to score is that the Senators have a goaltender who can steal a game on his own. Anderson is used to seeing a lot of shots; indeed, he seems to get better with a bigger workload. He hasn't shown any after-effects from the high ankle sprain that sidelined him at midseason. Ironically, the time off may come in handy now because he shouldn't be burned out from too much regular-season use.
The Senators also have the best blue-line weapon in hockey, Karlsson. Last season's Norris Trophy winner missed about two-thirds of the season due to an Achilles tendon injury that required surgery. Much to everyone's surprise, he was able to return Thursday night and didn't miss a beat despite sitting out nearly 10 weeks -- he saw more than 27 minutes of ice time and assisted on both goals in the Senators' 2-1 playoff-clinching overtime victory against the Washington Capitals. A healthy Karlsson makes everyone better.
Ottawa also has one of the NHL's best coaches, Paul MacLean, who was part of the Detroit Red Wings' run to the Stanley Cup as an assistant to Mike Babcock. MacLean has been around the track more than once and, after the slew of injuries he had to cope with during the regular season, he's not going to get flustered by the pressure of the playoffs.
A top-notch goaltender, an exceptional defense, plenty of depth up front and a coach who's among the best in the NHL. It's a formula that will bring the Senators their first Stanley Cup.