Monday, April 2, 2012

Sens Have Been Here Before But Date With Bruins Looks Tough

There were some sketchy, nerve-bending moments of pure fear for fans of the Ottawa Senators over the past couple of weeks. On the morning of March 17, their favourite team looked to be a lock to make the post-season but then lost ugly to the Toronto Maple Leafs just hours later. The Senators then dropped their next two games and suddenly the Washington Capitals and the Buffalo Sabres were close enough to see the air holes on the backs of their RBK sweaters.

A huge win over the Penguins one Saturday later was the start of a timely four game parade that officially put the Senators in the post-season and an almost sure date with the Boston Bruins in the first round, although there still remains a slight possibility they could rise to 6th over New Jersey or back down to 8th below Washington.

But the smart money is on a 7th place finish which would give Tim Thomas another chance to smother the Senators offense, this time when it really matters.

So, really, what are Ottawa’s chances if they have to go into Massachusetts to face the defending Stanley Cup champions and Zdeno Chara, who is, as Keith Richards once described himself, “half-man, half-horse, with a licence to shit in the street.”

If you go by their record against the Bruins this season, it doesn’t look good.

Ottawa is 1-4 with a game still on the schedule but the good news is that Ottawa won their last matchup and that just happened to be in Boston which could indicate an important breakthrough in confidence. If they end up facing the Bruins, they can at least go into Boston’s rink with the knowledge they’ve won there once already. The old cliché is that road teams in the playoffs are just looking for that one win – the split – to start the series. That task would be much harder for Ottawa if they had went 0-3 during the regular season. The two teams have never played each other in the playoffs, so there’s no Leaf-like curse hanging over the Senators heads.

The Ottawa franchise has been the 7th seed going into the playoffs 3 times in their history. Only once did they manage to knock off the 2nd place team and that was in 2002 against the Philadelphia Flyers for their second ever playoff series win. Below is a quick recap of how the Senators fared as a 7th seed:

96-97: Lost to Buffalo in 1st Round – 4-3

01-02: Beat Philadelphia in 1st Round – 4-1; Lost to Toronto in 2nd Round -4-3

07-08: Lost to Pittsburgh in 1st Round – 4-0

In the unlikely event Ottawa ends up dropping to 8th place and facing the New York Rangers, they might like the matchup a little better as they went 3-1 against the Blueshirts this season. Yet they won’t have much history to draw upon, never having played the Rangers in the playoffs and just once being the 8th seed:

97-98: Won against New Jersey in 1st Round – 4-2; Lost to Washington in 2nd Round – 4-1

A better way to look at Ottawa’s chances might be to see how many times a 7th seed knocked off a 2nd seed since the lockout. It’s happened exactly twice, most recently in 2010 when the Flyers knocked off the Devils 4-1. The Avalanche also surprised Dallas in 2006. That’s it folks.

In fact, the 8th seed has fared better in the upset category in the same time period. It’s happened 3 times, most recently in 2010 when Montreal beat Washington.

In short, the Senators are in for a hell of a fight if they want to beat the odds.

Yet that’s just what the Senators are good at. Nobody picked them to be where they are right now. So who says they can’t do it again?

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