OTTAWA -- The renaissance of Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson continues, from the blades of his skates to his unruly mop of blonde curls -- which, until now, hadn't made an appearance since his prime.
The 40-year-old Swede should be in the twilight of his career, but ignited by a youthful squad, he has led his team through adversity and into the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Alfredsson's experiences with the Senators during the Stanley Cup Playoffs have run the gamut during his 17-season career. From the frustrating losses to the Toronto Maple Leafs four times in five years, to the excitement of experiencing his first Stanley Cup Final in 2007, only to lose to the Anaheim Ducks -- it's a long resume, but hoisting the most recognized trophy in sports so far has eluded the Ottawa captain.
After a shortened season filled with devastating injuries to key pieces such as defenseman Erik Karlsson, forwards Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek and goaltender Craig Anderson, the Senators were all but left for dead. Few believed the club would be able to compete, let alone secure a playoff spot. Clinching the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, followed by a decisive first-round series win against the Montreal Canadiens was incredibly significant to Alfredsson.
"Being able to advance [definitely] meant something to [Alfredsson]," defenseman Chris Phillips said. "He told all of us at the end of Game 5 [when the Senators eliminated the Canadiens] that it was one of the sweetest moments of his career. We've been through a lot of seasons and playoffs together, and I see where he's coming from. There were a lot of people who counted us out this year, with a few guys getting injured for long periods of time. Everyone seems a bit surprised that we made the playoffs; then, to go into the first round and advance, he's just proud of the group that we have and he's happy to prove people wrong."
Alfredsson also has been buoyed by the assistance of long-time teammates such as Spezza, Phillips and Chris Neil. This core has provided the backup required to lead the team, with the Swedish veteran at the helm.
"He's our captain and he's the leader of this team," forward Erik Condra said. "We follow a lot of things he does because he does so many things the right way. He calms us down and energizes us when we need to. We owe him a lot of credit. He's brought a lot of us young guys along the way, along with Phillips and Spezza. They've all done a great job."
"Experience and leadership are important for any team to have success in the playoffs, and I think we're no different,” Senators coach Paul MacLean said. "Daniel's abilities are quite obvious in how he can play the game. But I think he also has the benefit of a lot of help from Phillips, Neil, [Sergei] Gonchar … they give each other an awful lot of support in the leadership department. Daniel's a representative of all of that because he wears the 'C.'"
Alfredsson's composure also helped the Senators navigate through the choppy waters of their series with Montreal, when tempers were reaching their boiling point.
"It's incredible the way he handles himself, both on and off the ice," forward Colin Greening said. "He deals with everything so well. He's very calm and collected, and if anything arises, for example the [Eric] Gryba hit [on Lars Eller in Game 1 against Montreal] and the war of words that erupted, he knows how to respond to that. Everyone respects him for that, and that can be tough when you're looked to as a leader, to say and do the right things. But he has no problem with it."
As the Senators prepare to face the Pittsburgh Penguins in the semifinals, the club will rely once more on its leader to hold steady and set the tone.
"We know we're in for a challenge," Alfredsson said. "But the tougher the road, the sweeter the reward. We're looking forward to it."