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FRANCHISE FIRSTS: Duchesne scores to earn the Senators a playoff berth for the first time

by Staff Writer / Ottawa Senators

When Steve Duchesne scored his famous third-period goal on April 12, 1997, against the Buffalo Sabres, he kicked off one heck of a party in Ottawa.

Just listen to Dave Schreiber’s goal call. Look at the faces of Duchesne and his teammates as they embrace each other on the ice. You can barely hear the arena goal horn, the crowd is so loud. Fans jumped up and down and danced jigs in the aisles.

With Duchesne’s goal and the Senators win that night, the team secured a playoff berth for the first time in franchise history.

“After scoring that goal if I had run for mayor I would have had a chance,” Duchesne told Sens TV in an interview last fall. “You know I never kissed a guy before but I kissed a bunch of Senators that night and it was so much fun, we jumped all over the place.”

Duchesne’s goal was the grand finale of an incredible run to the post-season that year. During the last 16 games of the regular season, the Senators earned a record of 10-4-2, with goalie Ron Tugnutt recording three shutouts along the way.

The Senators needed every one of those wins to keep them in the playoff race. The night before Duchesne’s big goal, Sens rookie Wade Redden scored to break a tense 2-2 tie with Detroit to keep the team’s playoff hopes alive.

That set the stage for the final game of the season, a must-win against Buffalo. The two goalies were brilliant, with Tugnutt and Dominik Hasek keeping the game scoreless until late in the third period.

With 4:01 remaining, Duschene scored the game’s only goal. The Sens won, to finish the season in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, and went on to meet the Sabres in the first round of the playoffs.

“We should have beat them in the playoffs, too. I think we went seven games and it was great to see the confidence all of the young guys got during that year, especially the night that we won,” said Duchesne.

He set a team record that year for most goals scored by a defenceman (19, later tied by Erik Karlsson in 2011-12). He was traded to St. Louis that summer, then went on to win a Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings in 2002. Duchesne still counts the run to the playoffs with the Sens in 1997 as a highlight of his 16-year NHL career.

“Everybody contributed that year. It’s amazing you go from so depressed the year before to now just winning the whole thing. Other than winning the cup, this is the most memorable thing in my career.”

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