If the Ottawa Senators are to, once again, for maybe the 38th time this season, do the impossible and win Game 7 in Pittsburgh tonight, we’ll have one of the most bizarre Stanley Cup Finals in recent memory.
A Penguins loss would result in the 16th-seeded Nashville Predators matching up against a group many pegged as the honorary 16th seed back in mid-April.
It’s no secret that Ottawa began the 2017 postseason with a plethora of doubters and critics ready to pounce on their smallest and largest failures. But the disappointing reality for the nonbelievers out there is that the latter has yet to come, now with the team nipping at June’s heels.
It is downright strange that the Senators, labelled the worst team to ever accidentally stumble into the playoffs, have continued to receive far more hate than support with each and every win. The underdog rule, nowadays most prominent in the NCAA’s March Madness, but still thriving throughout the sporting world, does not apply to Ottawa.
Before their first-round series against the Boston Bruins, they were posers. After their dismantling of the boys from Beantown in six games, they were lucky. Following a disposal of the New York Rangers, again with a game to spare, they were simply just worsening their draft position come July. And just one game into the Eastern Conference Final, with a 1-0 series lead against the defending Cup champions, the Senators, like they had been branded all regular season long, became boring.
Even Sportsnet commentator Jim Hughson’s final call of “Ottawa’s gonna do it!” on Tuesday night as the final seconds ticked off the clock rang more of disbelief and confusion than elation.
Do Sens fans wish they had more people across Canada cheering them on? Eh, probably not. Do Sens fans wish it didn’t feel like the entire country was rooting against them? Eh, probably.
The “who is Canada’s team?” debate is absolutely ridiculous and has been a tiresome constant in the hockey media all through the postseason. However, it is rather strange when, with a Canadian team still present in round three, their helmets adorned with the country’s flag, it turns out the answer to that comical question is: the Pittsburgh Penguins.
You’d think that the overwhelming number of heartwarming storylines within this organization would win over national media outlets and gain some respect from fanbases outside of Toronto and Montreal.
But while you were thinking that, the phrase “attendance woes” was uttered approximately 500 times in print, radio and television all across North America.
How about Clarke MacArthur? After missing 136 games due to post-concussion syndrome, the 32-year-old’s resurgence in the lineup has been a huge lift. MacArthur’s 9 (3,6) points include a series-clinching overtime goal, several key assists and a handful of goosebump-inducing moments that won’t soon be forgotten by the Senators’ faithful.
What about the Anderson family? It seemed that every time Craig left the team to be with his wife Nicholle, who is currently battling throat cancer, he simply came back better than ever. The immense support the family has received from the team, fans and city has been truly inspiring, especially when combined with the fact Craig is in the final stages of arguably the best season of his career.
And why don’t we talk about Bryan Murray more often? There’s yet to be a shot of Senators management up high in the press box after an overtime win that doesn’t feature a euphoric Murray, fist pumping alongside Daniel Alfredsson and Pierre Dorion.
This team was made into a strong, playoff-bound threat by Dorion in the last 12 months, but as many have pointed out recently, Murray’s fingerprints are all over the roster. While the 74-year-old continues to fight colon cancer, it’s amazing to see him still involved with the franchise and looking rather healthy.
Even the stories that don’t necessarily bring tears to your eyes are so uplifting that they could probably carry the mandatory feel-good rhetoric surrounding a team on the verge of a Stanley Cup Final berth any other year.
Unable to go to the grocery store without being heckled by elderly women during the regular season, Bobby Ryan has flipped the narrative entirely and is having a playoffs worthy of his enormous paycheque. After the 30-year-old posted career lows in goals and assists this year, he has come alive in the postseason. Ryan’s overall play has him looking like the best forward on the team - not to mention his 15 (6,9) points and three game-winning goals.
Though, nothing compares to the Conn Smythe campaign Erik Karlsson is leading right now. In a matter of weeks, the Swedish sensation has converted countless pundits from thinking he couldn’t perform in the playoffs to claiming he is now the best player on the planet.
Oh, right, and he’s done it on one foot.
The Ottawa Senators’ incredible playoff run is the Cinderella story nobody outside the nation’s capital wants to read to their children before bed.
Tonight might just be the most important game in franchise history. If the Senators are able to get past the Penguins, it’s very possible this year’s team has a better chance to win it all against the Predators than 2007’s team did against the Anaheim Ducks.
So throw on your favourite jersey, grab your friends, go to the local pub, and get ready for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final with some in-depth discussion on how 400 empty seats in the nosebleeds prevented the Senators from selling out Game 6.