Not many pundits gave the Ottawa Senators much of a chance in their 1 vs. 8 Eastern Conference Quarter Final matchup against the New York Rangers.
The Rangers sat in first place in the east for most of the season, and were a legitimate threat to win the President's Trophy as the league's top team. They have probably the best goalie in the world in Henrik Lundqvist. They have probably the best pure shut down d-pairing in the league with Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh. They have last summer's top free agent all-star and former Conn Smythe winner Brad Richards to set up 40 goal sniper Marian Gaborik.
By comparison, the Ottawa Senators were supposed to be a team in a rebuilding, re-tooling year. They have an unproven playoff goaltender in Craig Anderson. They have an aging Captain Daniel Alfredsson and "playoff underachiever" Milan Michalek up front. They do have Jason Spezza and Erik Karlsson, but the Rangers team defence was expected to contain those two players.
Yet here we are, the morning of game 5, the Senators have yet to hold a lead in any of the games this series, and we are all square at two games each. In a season that started with such low expectations, this is pure gravy for Sens fans. The season (in my opinion) has to be considered a huge success, regardless of the outcome of the next few games.
The question has to be asked however, the longer this series goes, do the conditions favour a Senators win? Much has been made by players and writers about the "pressure" factor. The Rangers were supposed to have a cake-walk in the first round, but instead have been outplayed in 3 of 4 games. Heading back to MSG, there has to be more pressure on the home team, right? Well, maybe. That is hard to quantify. What isn't hard to quantify however, is fatigue.
John Tortorella is a good coach. He knows how to get the most out of his players. What he also does, is lean heavily on his best players, and at some point, one has to wonder if that will start to affect their performance.
Dan Girardi has played 28:31 per game through the first 4 games. Not only that, but they have been HARD minutes, with 22 blocked shots. His partner, Ryan McDonagh, is much the same; 26:20 per game and 13 blocked shots, including one off the collarbone region in overtime in game 2. In Ottawa, Paul MacLean did his best to send the Chris Neil, Zack Smith and Colin Greening line out against the Rags big pair to make sure the two of them took some hits. Looking at the forwards, Ryan Callahan has played an insane 22:46 per game, which is 8th in the league among forwards, but he plays 2:00 more PK time a game than any player ahead of him in total TOI.
In addition to leaning heavily on his big horses, Tortorella has also refused to play his 4th liners. Chris Kreider, Mike Rupp and John Mitchell have all played less than 8 minutes a game, the latter two playing 5 minutes or less. Stu Bickel, the Rangers 6th d-man, has played a pitiful 5:48 per game-- last among all d-men to play 4 games and less than half of second last Deryk Engelland.
By comparison, the Senators have no player playing fewer minutes per game than Jim O'Brien's 7:39. Next among players playing all 4 games is Erik Condra, playing 11:44. The difference is shocking.
So the question remains, will the big horses for the Rangers be able to keep up their level of play with the high number of tough minutes? Or will the Senators be able to outlast New York and take over this series as it progresses.
I guess we will see.
Links after the jump!
- Reiterating what I said above, Scanlan talks about the Senators having the advantage, for now. [Wayne Scanlan]
- Optional skate this morning, this is what lines looked like: Michalek-Spezza-Butler, Foligno-Turris-Condra, Greening-Smith-Neil, Konopka-O'Brien-Stone. Daugavins et Klinkhammer extra. Spezza, Karlsson and Chris Phillips were all absent but are expected to play. Mike Hoffman was absent, however, so look for Stone to draw in, or Daugavins or Klinkhammer [St-Laurent Twitter]
- Prediction Panel: Not much optimism here, with Steve Lloyd picking Sens 4-1 (!) and Peter himself taking Sens 3-2. [SensExtra]
Sens Links (AKA Silfverberg Sentral-see what I did there?)
- Really cool feature on the Sens website. A "Fan Chat" where fans got to use Facebook to ask Kyle Turris some questions. He answers them very honestly though, and there are some cool insights. [Ottawa Senators]
- Normally reserved Nichols at the 6th Sens is riddled with Silfverberg fever, wanting him in the lineup as soon as possible, especially with the injuries Ottawa has up front to Winchester and that old Swedish Guy. [6th Sens]
- The other end of the spectrum, Ken Warren goes all bah-humbug on the Silfver parade. There is also a note at the end about the Senators shutting down top prospect Mika Zibanejad due to a concussion received in Baby Sens practice. [Ken Warren]
- Hopefully the Senators had a chance to check the site yesterday as Peter explored the secrets to scoring on all-world goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. [SilverSevenSens]
- There is a chance Canadian World Junior and Brandon Wheat King star Mark Stone will find his way into the lineup tonight. As pointed out by Peter, goals are being scored by rebounds in front. However, at this point guys like Konopka, Neil and Greening are the guys getting to the front of the net. Stone has sweeter hands than any of them, and may be useful. Should be interesting! [Matt Mariani]
- Lastly, in a must read, Mirtle heaps some praise onto Paul MacLean for the work he has done, and tips his cap to Bryan Murray for making one of the better hires seen around the NHL in a long time. [Globe and Mail]
Around the League
- Last night Marc-Andre Fleury remembered how to play goalie, and helped the Penguins make their series against the Flyers 3-2. Nick Cotsonika takes a look at Fleury's night. [Yahoo]
- Article in the Kansas City Star in which Gary Bettman tells the paper that the NHL is not interested in expansion. This is good news considering a number of teams in the NHL right now are struggling financially. [KC Star]
- Bruce Arthur talks about someone that everyone seems to be forgetting: Chris Pronger. Amazing the Flyers have done what they've done without his dominating presence, but I think the series would be significantly different with him in it. (Note: this is actually a really sad story) [National Post]
- We have already seen the Red Wings fail to come back, but there still exist 3 series at 3-1, and one that was at 3-1 and is now at 3-2. With that in mind, James Mirtle looks at how often teams are able to claw back and win in such a situation. [Globe and Mail]
- Lastly, here is the Shanahan video for his most serious suspension yet. Raffi Torres receives 25 games for his hit on Marian Hossa. This is a stiff, stiff punishment, we'll see if it helps take some of these hits out of the game. [NHL Player Safety]
- Big Saturday playoff day. Starts off with another series that people anticipated being short: Capitals at Bruins. This series is tied 2-2 and Braden Holtby is making a serious name for himself. This puck drop is at 3 pm, so you should be able to catch it to warm up for the Sens tonight!
- The Florida Panthers and the New Jersey Devils are locked in at two games a piece as well. This series has proven to be much more entertaining than I thought it would be, and the Panthers will look to rebound after being shut out by Martin Brodeur last game.
- Game of the Night: last time I didn't give it to the Sens game because I knew you'd all be watching it anyways, but tonight I honestly think it will be the best game. Puck drop at 7:00 at MSG, should be a wild one. Check back here for more preview in the GDT.
- The Blues look to close out their series against the Sharks tonight and book their ticket to the second round. I got a chance to watch most of game 4 and I have to say, the Sharks look frustrated. This is a St. Louis team not to be taken lightly.
- Lastly, in the late game, the Blackhawks look to extend their series against the Coyotes with the series shifting back to Glendale. All 4 games have gone to overtime and have been very exciting. If you aren't tuckered out after watching hockey all day, make sure you tune into this one.