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It’s Over

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Some reflection on the Ottawa Senators’ near-miracle season

Ottawa Senators v Pittsburgh Penguins - Game Seven
Heartbreak
Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

It’s been nearly an hour since Chris Kunitz scored the biggest goal of my blogging career (and possibly his own), and I’m still not quite sure it’s sunk in yet. It was the longest run by the Ottawa Senators in a decade, the second-longest in franchise history by an OT period and a bit, and it was both so fitting and so crushing for it to end in double-OT of a Game 7. It’ll probably take me months to truly digest this.

Let me get one thing out of the way right now: I’m not just happy the Sens were here. Sure, they made it way further than anyone other than a couple of homers expected them to. But right now I’m not just happy this happened. The Sens were a goal away from reaching the Stanley Cup Finals. It was an amazing run by the team, they did better than all but two teams in the league, but it stings. It’s like winning a silver medal in the Olympics. It’s hard to celebrate in the immediate aftermath. In the immortal words of Alexandre Daigle, “No one remembers number two.”

There were lots of positives this year. They were the feel good stories, like Nicholle Anderson’s success so far with fighting cancer or Clarke MacArthur returning from almost two years missed to concussion. There were also many hockey-based questions answered. Many wondered if this was the year Craig Anderson’s numbers would fall off a cliff, and the answer was an emphatic no. Guy Boucher’s system was not only effective, it seemed to maximize the team’s strengths and minimize its weaknesses. Colin White turned pro. Fredrik Claesson grew into a solid third-pairing guy. Ryan Dzingel and Ben Harpur were rookies who performed far better than expected.

This playoff run spawned a lot of excitement around the league. The MacArthur and Anderson stories excited people. Redemption for guys like Bobby Ryan and Derick Brassard caught media attention. Maybe most important of all, people suddenly seemed to realize that Erik Karlsson could be the best defenceman in the league. He played the last five minutes of every game on a broken ankle, somehow dominating the best players on every team and still being a point-per-game player.

I look at a lot of the other Eastern Conference teams this playoffs and I’m kind of happy with the Sens’ position. The Washington Capitals are talking about blowing it up. The Blue Jackets are wondering if their 16-game win streak was a complete fluke. The Canadiens couldn’t make it further with a healthy Carey Price, and Shea Weber is getting older (not to mention P.K. Subban is in the Cup Finals). The Rangers have to wonder how much longer Henrik Lundqvist can hold up. In contrast, this playoff run was actually motivating for the nation’s capital.

Many have been pointing out that this team looks to get better next year. Thomas Chabot and Colin White will have the chance to be with this team next season. The team will be ready for #TheSystem from the word go. Guys like Dzingel and Jean-Gabriel Pageau will have another year under their belts. Karlsson will be healthy. If this year’s team was good enough to hit the Eastern Conference Finals and push Game 7 to second overtime, imagine what next year’s team could do.

The problem is that I think back to 2008. Ottawa lost in Game 5 of the Cup Finals in 2007, with the team and fans vowing to be back a year later. Instead, the 2008 Senators backed into the playoffs and were swept by Sidney Crosby’s Penguins. Those Crosby-led Pens would reach the finals in 2008, win it all in 2009, and then not make it back that far again until last season. Success is fleeting in the NHL. Every once in a while a team like the Kings or Blackhawks lucks into a couple years of success, but it’s so hard to maintain. The Kings have won one playoff game over the past three seasons. The Hawks got swept by the 16th-place Predators this year. The luckiest teams get five years of relevance. As much as I expect next year’s Sens to be better, I’m also too realistic to know that more success is guaranteed. There’s just too much luck involved. So many things had to align for this year’s run to happen, and it would take a lot for it all to happen again.

That’s part of why I want to savour this year’s run. It was an amazing run. It was so much fun, and minus the years of my life I’ve lost to stress, was well worth it. Things like this don’t happen every day. The fact that it happened with the Sens being written off each round makes it just the more incredible. Somehow by cheering for the Sens were were the enemy of the media, which it made it so much more fun. I’ve appreciated each and every one of you on this blog who’s contributed this year. We bicker about everything minute lineup decision and then unite in excitement when the team starts winning in the playoffs. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

So I hope that if next season we find ourselves back here, we can look back and talk about what the Sens learned from this to bring them back. If they don’t make it this far, we can accept how magical this run was. We can remember that this is what legends are made of. This is the kind of thing we can tell future fans we witnessed, and how much we wondered what could have been with just one more win, one more goal. Either way, it’s been quite the run and I won’t soon forget it.

Oh, and go Predators!