After their first playoff series in franchise history with the Boston Bruins, the Senators move on to a familiar postseason foe in the New York Rangers.
It’s not exactly a Battle of Ontario level relationship, but the Senators and Rangers have met once before, five years ago.
The 2012 series between the two was nothing short of unfriendly. With a couple of suspensions, a spirited fight and a plethora of thunderous hits, it was blatantly obvious that the teams genuinely hated each other.
Add in two overtime victories, several comebacks and a dramatic seventh game to cap things off; looking back, the matchup might’ve been one of the more entertaining in recent memory.
“We only have a handful of guys around from that,” said Craig Anderson on the eve of Game 1 in Ottawa. “So it’s one of those things where you move on and having a piss poor memory would probably be the best thing to have. Try not to remember previous season series; stay in the moment the best you can.”
If you can’t remember, the Senators ended up losing the series when they were defeated 2-1 in Game 7 at Madison Square Garden. Hence Anderson’s slight disdain for that particular point in time.
But regardless of the outcome, the seven games in Round 1 were of great significance to the organization for a number of reasons.
Two of those “handful of guys” Anderson was talking about happen to play important roles on the current team. In many ways, that series against the Rangers is near and dear to the hearts of forwards Mark Stone and Kyle Turris.
A 19-year-old without a lick of professional hockey experience, Stone came out of the WHL that spring having dominated the junior level with 123 points in 66 games with the Brandon Wheat Kings. He anticipated being a black ace for the entirety of the playoffs, but received a far more inclusive part when head coach Paul MacLean called on him for Game 5.
“I was extremely nervous,” Stone recalled at his stall on Wednesday morning. “I didn’t really know what to expect. I knew that, obviously, it was going to be quite a big jump from the junior (hockey) that I’d been playing over the year. I didn’t play that much, so I was able to ease myself in and was fortunate enough to contribute in the win.”
His contribution to the win was a perfect pass on a 3-on-4 rush to Jason Spezza for the game-winning goal. Not too shabby for your first ever game in the league.
“I wasn’t expecting to come to Ottawa to play games,” Stone admitted. “That’s one of the moments in your hockey career that you never forget. Still, to this day, I don’t forget much about it.
“That summer it was one of the cooler things that I’d done in my life. (I) thought a lot about it back then.”
While Stone recorded the assist of his career back then, Turris scored the goal of his career.
Still young in his tenure with the Senators - he had been traded from the Phoenix Coyotes in mid-December - Turris was moulding into a key player in the team’s core after only 49 games with the club during the regular season. The then second line centreman would become a household name in Ottawa when he showed off his patented wrist shot in Game 4.
Coming in on a 2-on-2 in overtime, the then 22-year-old took a drop pass from Jim O’Brien at the New York blue line 2 minutes and 40 seconds into the fourth frame. Using Rangers defenseman Anton Stralman as a perfect screen on his own goalie, Turris wired a shot mere centimetres over the glove of Henrik Lundqvist and the series was tied at two.
It was arguably the most impressive playoff overtime goal in Senators history.
Five years later, Turris has another playoff overtime goal on his resume, against the Montreal Canadiens in 2013, and numerous regular season extra time winners, but the pure jubilation he feels after the puck hits the mesh and the game has ended instantaneously hasn’t changed one bit.
“It’s still (a) very powerful adrenaline rush that you don’t know what to do (with),” he said. “You’re just so excited, you try to get to your closest teammates and celebrate.”
Turris couldn’t stop smiling after yesterday’s practice when asked repeatedly about one of the greatest moments of his career.
As per usual, the Senators will focus on the task at hand and leave the past in the past when they host the Rangers tonight for their first game of the Eastern Conference Semi Finals. Zeroing in on the opening ten minutes of the game, playing structurally sound and being responsible in both ends is what Boucher has preached all year long and it’s working like a charm in the postseason.
The Senators have never seemed more centred on the moment and nothing else, but you’ve got to think that if Turris is coming down the left side, the puck on his stick at the top of the circle with only one player between himself and the netminder, maybe for a split second he’ll recall that Game 4 a handful of years ago and feel inclined to wire one to the top right corner just for old time’s sake.