It felt like this season never really got off the ground for fans of the Ottawa Senators. I don’t know why, but people just didn’t seem as captivated as they did in years past. It may have stemmed from the team bringing in a new GM and a new coach. It may have come from having one playoff series in nine years, and not having even made the playoffs the year before. It wasn’t helped by Dorion’s first trade, a lateral move that saw the Sens get older but more cost-controlled. The later trades were also decidedly “meh”, going after depth in the form of Tommy Wingels, Alexandre Burrows, and Viktor Stalberg. We’d been fooled too many times by changes of the guard: Paul MacLean brought us the Pesky Sens, who managed to win a playoff series in 2013 but then fell from grace and missed the playoffs the very next season. Dave Cameron’s tenure brought us the miracle Hamburglar run which got the team all of two playoff wins, both without Andrew Hammond in net. There seemed very little to get excited about for this team in 2016-17, and you can only get yourself psyched up so many times before cynicism sets in.
You saw it in the low attendance to start the season (that continued into Game 1 of this past series). There have been a million-and-one thinkpieces on why that happened (and if you want to talk about the effect of the federal government not paying its employees for more than a year, I can talk all day to you about that one), but the point is it did. Low attendance typically means low interest in a hockey team.
I also saw it in the blogging world. The usually vibrant world of Sens news was quiet this year. I don’t know if anyone noticed, but the last time we did a Silver Nuggets was at the end of December. We’d moved from twice a week to twice a month to not at all because no one was writing. Bonk’s Mullet has had two articles since November. Sens Nation had two articles all year (one about the Sens Blogger Classic). Eye on the Sens has picked up over the last couple months after what felt like a considerable silence. My unashamedly favourite Sens blog, Welcome To Your Karlsson Years, had five articles in 2017 before the playoffs came around, and just six articles from October to December 2016. Even here on Silver Seven, we went through some lulls, hardly putting out much between recaps. Some weeks it felt like we and Sens Chirp were the only ones out there.
And yet, somehow in the midst of all this complacency, the Sens knocked off two heavily-favoured (by the media) teams to reach the Eastern Conference Finals. Let’s make no mistake — that’s a huge deal. This is already the third-furthest the Sens have made it in franchise history. It’s also the third time they’ve made the Conference Finals in the last 20 years — making them the only Canadian team to do so. Erik Karlsson has suddenly shown the league he’s in the conversation for best player (something we’ve all been saying for years).
Of course, there have been moments along the way to thaw our frigid hearts. It started with the gut-wrenching announcement of Nicholle Anderson’s diagnosis with cancer, and how inspiring her battle has been. We saw Daniel Alfredsson’s jersey get retired and Chris Neil reach 1000 games. There was Clarke MacArthur’s return from a head injury after having played four games over the span of nearly two full seasons. No to mention this team spent the vast majority of the season in second place in the division, making it look more and more like the playoffs were an option.
Now we’re here. Whatever happens next round, this season has to be viewed as an unqualified success. The path to the Conference Finals wasn’t as hard as some, but you can’t help the opportunities you’re given. You just have to seize them. These Sens have done it. Despite the apathy and the criticism and the hand-wringing, Ottawa has made it to the Conference Finals. Just shows you that good things don’t always happen to those who deserve them. I’ve been extremely happy for two full days now, and I’m excited for the next round. The complacency is gone. For the first time in a long time, I’m excited because the Sens are experiencing playoff success. It’s glorious.