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Five reasons Senators clinched a playoff berth

by Evan Sporer / NHL.com

The 2012 Los Angeles Kings proved that all a team needs to do is get to the Stanley Cup Playoffs; from there, anything can happen. Los Angeles caught fire after the 2012 Trade Deadline, sneaking into the postseason as the No. 8 seed, and then eventually winning the 2012 Stanley Cup.

The Ottawa Senators have followed that blueprint to the letter so far.

On Feb. 10, the Senators were 14 points out of a playoff spot. Five teams stood in the way of a postseason berth.

Playoff hockey is all about "what have you done for me lately?" and of late, the Senators have been the hottest team in hockey. Ottawa is 23-4-4 since Feb. 10, and 32-16-7 since coach Dave Cameron took over on Dec. 11. Th Senators, the one led recently by a first-year goaltender and timely goal-scoring, now have a chance to win the Stanley Cup.

Here are five reasons the Senators clinched a playoff berth:

1. Goaltending magic

If rookie goaltender Andrew Hammond continues to play the way he has been, he's going to make Ottawa very difficult to defeat. Even looking past Hammond's win-loss record of 20-1-2, he has a .941 save percentage, and a 1.79 goals-against average. In his 23 starts, Hammond has allowed two or fewer goals 18 times; he's allowed more than three goals twice. He has three shutouts during that stretch, and has eight games in which he's allowed one goal. Hammond has been difficult for shooters to beat, and if that continues in the playoffs, Ottawa will find itself in most games it plays.

2. Youth movement

A pair of rookie forwards is also helping to lead the way for the Senators. Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone have been two of the better offensive rookies this season. Hoffman has scored 27 goals (first among rookies), and has been one of the most productive even-strength scorers this season.

Stone has 26 goals and 64 points, tied for both second-most points on the Senators and most among rookies with Johnny Gadreau of the Calgary Flames. He also had six goals in the final five games of the season, including two in the playoff-clinching victory against the the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday.

Hoffman and Stone have combined to score 10 of the 37 game-winning goals for the Senators. These rookies have no problem stepping up in the big moment, and have been playing meaningful hockey games for the past few months.

3. Veteran forward depth

Forward Bobby Ryan has playoff experience, and is also providing Ottawa with key offensive contributions. Though he hasn't scored as many goals as he did his first season as a Senator, his 54 points are more than what he recorded last season. Playing on a line with Hoffman has given Ryan another legitimate goal-scorer with which to play.

The Senators are able to roll two effective scoring lines, with Kyle Turris, Stone, and Clarke McArthur making up their other unit. Turris is tied with Stone with 64 points, and is tied for the team-lead with six game-winning goals.

4. Dominant D

No player though is more critical to Ottawa's success and paces the team than captain Erik Karlsson, who is perhaps the most dominant defenseman in the League.

Since the All-Star Game, Karlsson's play has completely taken off; he leads all defensemen with 33 points.

His ability to make a play in the defensive zone, and quickly transition from defense-to-offense is a difficult thing for other teams to stop. Karlsson is also fast enough that when he takes risks at one end of the ice, he has the recovery speed to get back and make a defensive play.

5. A new voice

Ottawa's overall game has been much better since Cameron was named coach, replacing Paul MacLean on Dec. 8. He's turned the Senators into a positive possession team, and one which plays with much more structure in the neutral zone. This isn't simply a the story of catching fire at the right time; Ottawa has been trending in the right direction since Cameron became the coach, and though key players have had great stretches to help guide the Senators into the playoffs, Ottawa has put more attention into the process, which has shown in Cameron's 55 games.

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