It has been 86 years since the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens played one another in a playoff series.
In 1927 they played one another in an NHL semifinal game for the right to play in the Stanley Cup Finals. The format they played at the time is much more analogous to what you'll see in soccer's Champions League head-to-head matchups. Two games, team with the most goals on the aggregate takes the series.
The Sens dominated game one in Montreal by a 4-0 score on April 2 before returning home to Ottawa. A 1-1 tie sealed the series — a 5-1 Senators win on aggregate — and they were off to play for a Stanley Cup against the Boston Bruins.
Ottawa won the Stanley Cup over Boston in a four game set.
It doesn't need to be said — but you've read this far so we may as well — much has changed in 86 years. For one thing, the Senators didn't exist for 58 of them. However, few things are better at igniting a rivalry than a playoff series. It may have taken a little over three quarters of a century, but Canadiens/Senators could be re-entering its prime.
Senators GM Bryan Murray weighed in on the forthcoming series on Monday, noting the unique dynamic of the rivalry and potential for Ottawa's fanbase and team. Many hockey fans will get their first exposure to the 2013 Senators by keeping tabs on this series. If the team continues to live up to its 'pesky' moniker, they may convert a few observers into believers.
"It's going to be terrific for our area to see our fans can match up," said Murray. "We can establish our own pride and level of enthusiasm."
"People will see this is a young, growing hockey team."
The paper matchup makes this a compelling one on the ice. Not only did each team walk away with a 2-1-1 record this season, there is a fair amount of crossover in skills and style. The Sens are the less flashy of the two perhaps, but the team speed and work rate will keep them step for step with the Northeast Division winning Habs.
Going up and down the matchup, it's tough to find much separating the two. Where one team gives an inch, the other takes it back elsewhere. This could very well be a long, intense series with a couple of bounces separating either side. Many have argued that the Habs are a 'deeper' team than the Sens, a statement Murray takes issue with. Given the number of players the Sens have used this season, they have plenty of NHL quality ready to go when they need it.
"Our young players, if players get injured, can be called up and step in and play games."
Despite going 6-4-0 to end the season in what was, at times, frustrating fashion, Murray believes that the Sens are in "good order." They are a squad which has consistently controlled possession and outchanced their opponents most nights. In other words, the process work has been there even if the final answer comes up wrong.
The lone complaint about this team has been their inability to put up big goal totals, though those shortcomings have necessitated a higher work rate according to Murray. You'll be hard pressed to find a coach or manager who would be happy with a diminished work rate for any reason. If they have to score the grungy ones instead, so be it.
As we near puck drop on game one, the civic rivalry is sure to amp up. The Toronto/Ottawa rivalry was steeped in many intense playoff battles and now the Montreal/Ottawa rivalry will have its chance to reach that echelon of competitiveness. The Canadian matchup will be a first for Murray, but maintains it is a great opportunity for the team and franchise.
"We haven't really had a Canadian flavour since I've been here," said Murray. "It's a new and exciting matchup. Both teams are built for hard work and speed."
In the greater context of the game itself, the Sens are looking forward to taking on a team entrenched in NHL folklore.If it goes as well as it did 86 years ago, who knows what could happen.
"It's an old franchise we'd like to knock off. Now we can."
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