OTTAWA – At the beginning of the season, few could have predicted that the Ottawa Senators would be active in the playoffs. Now those same Senators are on the brink of knocking out the New York Rangers – the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, and a club pegged by many to play long into the spring.
Here are five reasons why the Senators have taken a 3-2 lead in their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series:
1. Craig Anderson
After coming off a three-week recovery for a hand laceration sustained at home, Anderson has been huge for the Senators in the postseason. The goaltender has faced 157 shots, and has only allowed five goals in the past four games of the series, including a shutout on Saturday. Anderson currently boasts a 1.79 goals-against average and .943 save percentage.
Goalie - OTT
GAA: 1.79 | SVP: 0.943
"I think the word is confidence," coach Paul MacLean
said. "I think [Anderson] gives his teammates confidence to play, and gives them the ability to go on the ice and just be able to play – not worried that they can't do things offensively and make mistakes and that he won't be there to help bail them out. I think he's also shown leadership – in this round he's really stepped up, elevated his play and helped a lot of his teammates with the pressures of being in the playoffs. In my opinion, he's probably been our best player."
2. Powerful penalty kill
Going hand-in-hand with Anderson's play has been the performance of the Sens' penalty kill, holding the Rangers to only three power-play goals in 22 attempts. Veteran Chris Phillips has once again demonstrated his ability to step up in the postseason, bearing down on the Rangers' offense whenever it attempts to enter the zone. Young players like Zack Smith and Erik Condra have contributed calm heads and fast skates to ensure that the puck remains out of the hands of the opposition when the Senators are down a man.
3. Coach Paul MacLean
MacLean became the ninth head coach in Senators' modern history last June and since his hiring, the leader set the club on a course destined for success. MacLean's stellar communication skills with both veterans and rookies has allowed Ottawa to bond tightly as a team.
"We have a very good relationship," Jason Spezza said. "Sometimes I don't agree with him, and he doesn't always agree with me. But that doesn't mean we aren't going to listen to each other."
4. Faceoff dominance
Winning the battles at the faceoff dot has always been a sticking point for the Sens, particularly in the postseason. However, these playoffs have seen the Senators dominate on the puck drop. Zenon Konopka is currently first overall in faceoff wins, with a 72.3 percent average. Ottawa also has two more players in the top 20 – Zack Smith and Jason Spezza are No. 15 and No. 19, respectively. The Rangers do not have a single player in the top 20 – their best man at the dot is Brad Richards, who currently sits No. 25 overall with an average of 51 percent.
5. Surprising faces stepping up
Whether it was Matt Carkner's altercation with Brian Boyle in Game 2 or his set-up pass in Game 4, Jim O'Brien's pass to Kyle Turris for the overtime win in Game 4 or playoff debutante Mark Stone's helper on Saturday for Spezza's first goal of the series, contributions have been coming from everywhere for the Senators.
"That's the thing about the playoffs," Carkner said. "You never know what's going to happen, and basically on any given night, anyone can be a hero."