In case you haven't been paying attention, the Ottawa Senators' AHL affiliate in Binghamton has advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals of the Calder Cup playoffs. Considering the Binghamton Senators placed fifth in the East division and have now knocked off the two top ranked teams from the Atlantic Division in their first two series, this is a very impressive feat.
Given that a significant number of these players will never play consistently (or at all) in an Ottawa Senators jersey, just why is this playoff success so important to the big club?
1. A second chance at a season for Robin Lehner
Goalie prospect Robin Lehner's ups and downs this season have been well-chronicled -- having to fill in as a backup in Ottawa meant he sat on the bench for much of his first professional year, and the success of Binghamton's Barry Brust relegated him to the pine in Bingo as well. Most assumed that Lehner had lost a year of development because of a lack of game time, and maybe they were right. But ever since Brust was injured in the first round, Lehner has stepped in and laid claim to the starter role. He's posted seven wins, a shutout, a .926 save percentage, and a 2.59 goals against average in nine games.
2. Playoff experience
It goes without saying that playing in the playoffs offers playoff experience, but what might not be apparent is why this is important. The playoffs are simply a different beast than the regular season, as Ottawa Senators fans know all too well. The intensity is up, defensive pressure increases, and the game becomes a whole lot more physical. To learn how to adapt and excel in the grind of the playoffs is something every player needs to learn. For those B-Sens who have a shot at playing in the big leagues, getting this experience is extremely valuable and will pay huge dividends in the future.
3. Auditions for next year's Ottawa team
There are going to be a lot of empty roster spots up front for the Ottawa Senators in the 2011-12 season, and right now Bryan and Tim Murray are getting a good chance to see what these players can offer. Some of them, like Ryan Potulny (who has 10 goals and 19 points in 13 games), are blowing their expectations out of the water. Others, like Colin Greening (who has 3 points in 13 games), are not quite meeting expectations. It'll be interesting to see what kind of an impact -- if any -- this has for these players. Potulny is a particularly interesting case, as he is a restricted free agent next year.
4. Pro experience for Jared Cowen
It's expected that defenseman Jared Cowen is going to step into the Ottawa Senators lineup next year, so what could be better preparation than the AHL playoffs? Cowen will finally be playing against adults (instead of the 16-19 year olds he can knock down with his pinkie finger), and he'll be able to better gauge areas he needs to improve to play at the pro level. Therefore, the experience will make Cowen's offseason training that much more effective, and Ottawa will receive an even better player at training camp in September.
5. Overcoming adversity
Rarely does a team have to overcome as much adversity as these Binghamton Senators. They started without their leading scorer and AHL MVP Corey Locke, then lost their starting goalie, and are still without the majority of their starting defense (David Hale, Eric Gryba, Patrick Wiercioch, Craig Schira, and Derek Smith are all still out with injuries). They also went down three games to one in their opening series against the Atlantic Division's top team in the Manchester Monarchs. Still, the team fired off overtime win after overtime win and came back, and have battled hard with a less-than-stellar blueline. Having this experience in their back pocket for future times where they have to come back in a playoff series is huge. A never-say-die attitude is one of the most important things in playoff hockey, and the B-Sens are getting a taste of that right now.