When Bryan Murray said at the beginning of the year that this was a playoff team, I laughed. This was a team that had failed to make the playoffs in the previous season and in the offseason had turned Jason Spezza into Alex Chiasson, Milan Michalek into a year-older Milan Michalek, and Ales Hemsky into unneeded cap space.
In early February, this team was 14 points out of the playoffs, with a 2-4% chance of making the playoffs depending on your source. I had no expectations. I was very happy to see that there were no Mike Comrie, Mike Commadore, or Andy Sutton trades at the deadline. Ottawa's deadline deals have normally be short-sighted, and the 2014-15 Ottawa Senators couldn't afford to be short-sighted.
When Ottawa swept California, I thought it was fun, but I had no playoff expectations. I figured it was a small highlight in a lost season.
It wasn't until March 23, when the Sens beat the Sharks to pass the Bruins for the final playoff spot (and, coincidentally, my birthday), that I actually started to believe. Maybe, just maybe, this amazing comeback was going to happen.
And as we counted down to the playoffs, I was really hoping the Sens would meet the Canadiens in the first round, but I figured the Rangers were the most likely option. At that point, I was just happy to watch Ottawa make the playoffs. I figured whatever came next was gravy.
But it's not just gravy. This playoff series has shown me that. Ottawa has lost three one-goal games to go down three games to zero. In each game, Ottawa has been one bounce away from winning. And that has made me surprisingly upset.
I've watched Mike Hoffman languish on the bottom line. I've watched Mark Borowiecki and Eric Gryba fail to keep up most nights. I've seen (at least in Games 1 and 2) a hurt-looking Erik Karlsson fail to dominate the way I know he can. I've watched an injured Mark Stone try to get shots off without causing too much pain. I've seen Bobby Ryan go freezing cold after the trade deadline. I've seen the Sens fail to take advantage of no Max Pacioretty or P.K. Subban in Game 1. I've seen players like Brian Flynn and Dale Weise become the heroes for the Habs. And it all bothers me.
Suddenly, the future doesn't matter as much. Ottawa could be winning this series, and they're not. I said it was all a bonus, this whole playoffs thing, but once they're there, my competitive spirit kicks in. It's hard to be a fan and not care when your team is losing.
Ottawa is on the verge of being swept. If they lose on Wednesday, it will be a very long summer. I'll be angry and frustrated. People will try to look back on the great run the team had to the playoffs. They'll say that it was still a great season for a young team. I might even join in with this point of view. But truthfully, I won't care. I wanted more, and I'll be fired up for the upcoming season. As much as I didn't expect this team to make the playoffs, I've expected a lot of them once they made the playoffs. I couldn't have told you that before the series started, but seeing the team falter has made me realize just how much I thought they'd succeed.
I don't know who I was kidding. I'm a fan and I hate to watch my team lose. The playoffs are never just gravy.