This particular article went through several re-writes because it’s challenging to put into words what I’m feeling right now. I suspect it’s hard for many of you, as Sens fans, to articulate what you’re feeling right now. For me, at least, it’s a strange combination of disappointment and pride. Yes, this was heart-wrenching loss in every sense of the word. Yes, I desperately wanted to see Erik Karlsson lift the Stanley Cup over his head. Yes, I wanted to sit in the arena for a Stanley Cup finals game and just feel the atmosphere. There is a lot of disappointment and wondering what could have been.
At the same time, I’m also left with a great sense of pride and fulfillment. It’s a terrible cliche to say that one should always savour the journey, not the destination, but it feels like one of those times when the saying is most true. This run was so unexpected, the performances so remarkable, that it’s hard to stay too upset for too long. We’re left with six weeks of almost uniformly great memories.
Eventually we’ll pull together a season recap and postmortem here at Silver Seven Sens. We’ll pick through the roster choices facing the Sens as they enter the off-season, and we’ll wonder about the future and mourn the missed opportunity. There’s going to be lots to talk about. But for now, it’s worth remembering this run.
Thus, I give you my five personal reasons I’ll most remember these play-offs:
5. The Rise of Fredrik Claesson
If you’ve been reading my writing over the last twelve months, you’ll notice that I’ve completely changed my tune about Claesson. It’s not that I thought Claesson was completely terrible in his intermittent call-ups, but I just wasn’t convinced there was the making of an NHL player in there. Over the course of the season, Claesson gradually won me over and, it seems, he’s slowly won Guy Boucher over as well. In last night’s game, Claesson played almost 24 minutes, easily the most of his NHL career. The team as a whole showed growth, but Claesson to me best represented what so much of the run was about: an underrated, lesser known player making the most of an opportunity presented to him. I hope he’s playing in the nation’s capital for years to come.
4. The Greatest Goal in Ottawa Senators Play-off History
It wasn’t the most meaningful goal in Sens play-off history, but I’m not certain I’ll see a prettier goal in the play-offs in my lifetime. Everything about it is just perfect:
3. The Legend of Jean-Gabriel Pageau
Jean-Gabriel Pageau had something of a disappointing regular season; the 12 goals and 33 points he scored in 2016-17 were down from the 19 goals and 43 points of the year before. Maybe it was his newfound role as the team’s primary checking centre, maybe it was a lack of playing time with the team’s more offensively inclined-wingers, but when the play-offs started not many expected Pageau to lead the team in goal scoring. Instead, the young speedster laid his claim as the Sens’ number 2 centre and cemented his legend as one of the all-time great play-off performers in this team’s history with this magic:
2. The Resiliency of this Team
Sometimes there is truth in cliches: great teams are resilient, they find ways to overcome adversity. This edition of the Senators was faced with incredible amounts of adversity, both on and off the ice. Nicholle Anderson’s battle with cancer could never have been far from Craig’s mind. Clarke MacArthur’s miraculous return to the line-up after it appeared he might never play again. Erik Karlsson playing through a broken foot. The perseverance necessary to come back and tie so many games late, to win so many tight games in overtime. It will be tempting to call that collection of comebacks luck but I won’t remember it that way; I’ll remember a team that really had me believing in their ability to come together as a group.
1. Erik Karlsson
There isn’t much to be said that hasn’t already been said better than I can write it out here but it bears repeating: Erik Karlsson is a joy to watch and we should all be thankful as Sens fans that we got to see him work his magic for such an extended period of time against such incredible pressure. Yes, it was gratifying to see the broader hockey world finally, finally recognize the captain for what he is. But as Sens fans, we’ve known this for a long time. This run, more than anything else, was about Erik Karlsson. None of this happens without him. Long live the Captain.