At the start of his team’s series with the New York Rangers, Ottawa Senators coach Guy Boucher joked that his team was motivated by the fear of getting swept by their favored opponents. The Senators didn’t come close to meeting that fate. Instead, they’re now on their way to a level they haven’t reached since 2007.
Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone’s first-period goals gave Ottawa a lead that it would never lose, as the Senators stunned the Rangers with a 4-2 victory on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden in New York, closing out the Rangers and winning their best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal by a final count of four games to two.
The Ottawa Senators advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals for just the third time in the franchise’s modern history and the first time since 2007, the year that Ottawa made its only Stanley Cup Finals appearance since returning to the NHL in 1992. They’ll meet either the Washington Capitals or the Pittsburgh Penguins in their next series, which will start with the Senators traveling to either Washington or Pittsburgh for the first two games before returning to Canada’s capital in Game 3.
Erik Karlsson added a marker in the second period that proved to be the decisive goal, and Jean-Gabriel Pageau closed out the game for the Ottawa Senators with an empty-net goal with six seconds left, capping off Ottawa’s finest performance of the series.
Former Senator Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider scored for New York, which had to play from behind for the first time in the series. Despite holding a 3-2 lead in the series prior to Game 6, the Ottawa Senators had only ever led in the first game of the series, having trailed throughout Games 2 and 5 before winning in overtime and never leading in Games 3 or 4.
This time, Hoffman and Stone gave the Senators the start they had been missing throughout the series. Hoffman opened the scoring by redirecting a shot from Karlsson under the glove of Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, a goal that left the New York netminder disgusted with himself and served as a sign that this wasn’t going to be the type of legendary performance that Lundqvist has become well-known for in the postseason.
The Swedish goaltender was adequate with 22 saves, but was overshadowed by his Ottawa counterpart Craig Anderson, who turned aside 37 Rangers shots, according to the league website.
The win moves the Ottawa Senators to a round that most of them have never competed in during their NHL careers. Only Chris Neil and Chris Kelly were around for the Senators’ last trip to the Eastern finals, a 4-1 win over Buffalo that put Ottawa in the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Ottawa Senators will bring that lack of deep postseason experience against either the defending champion Penguins or the even less experienced Capitals, who haven’t reached the Eastern Conference Finals since 1998. That was also the only time the Capitals squared off against the Senators, with Washington taking a 4-1 decision. The Senators have much more experience against the Penguins, beating them in 2007 and falling to Pittsburgh in 2008, 2010 and 2013.
Readers, are you surprised that the Ottawa Senators are in the Eastern finals? Who do you think is a better matchup for them? Do they have a chance to defeat either the Capitals or the Penguins? Sound off in the comments and like and share this story.
Commentary by Dan Angell