It will be a long time before the highlights from the Ottawa Senators' 2006-07 season will be forgotten.
Hockey Country embraced the Eastern Conference champions for their renewed dedication and commitment to becoming winners.
The Senators battled through a slow start to the regular reason while they learned how to play under a new game plan introduced by the coaching staff. Head coach Bryan Murray and assistants Greg Carvel and John Paddock stressed a deeper commitment to team play and defensive responsibility from the entire lineup. Boasting one of the most talented lineups in the NHL, the coaches wanted the work ethic from each player to match their skill. Ultimately, it did.
"I think you always expect the team is going to get a chance to win, (but maybe) not the way we started," Murray said during his post-game news conference on Wednesday. "We certainly grew a lot over the year."
The Senators' willingness to stay on course with the game plan proved to be worthwhile. Not only did the club record the fourth-highest regular-season point total in team history with 105, it also reached the Stanley Cup final for the first time. A turning point in the season came in December when centremen Jason Spezza, Antoine Vermette and Mike Fisher all went down with injuries. The team rallied and filled in the gap, and when those three players returned, the Senators vaulted up the standings, finishing as one of the hottest teams in the league over the second half of the schedule.
Heading into the playoffs on a high, the Sens rolled through the first three rounds in just 15 games, knocking off the Pittsburgh Penguins, New Jersey Devils and the Presidents' Trophy-winning Buffalo Sabres.
"Nothing happens exactly as you plan it," Senators general manager John Muckler says. "How certain people are going to react, you don't know that. This year was totally different than any other year that I've been here. We had a lot of adversity in the early months and really didn't start to win until early January. We lost Spezza, Vermette and Fisher all at one time, and I think that enabled the coaches and players to show off their skill level. Being able to get more ice time through injuries, I think that helped everybody. All those good things happened in that short period and then in January the chemistry all came together."
Click here for game recaps from the Ottawa Senators' 2006-07 season.