Senators' playoff success echoing last Canadian team to win Stanley Cup
Senators' Bobby Ryan (centre) celebrates with teammates Marc Methot (3), Derick Brassard (19), Mark Stone (61) and Jean-Gabriel Pageau (44) after scoring the game-winning goal against the Penguins during the first overtime period of Game 1 of the NHL's Eastern Conference final in Pittsburgh on Saturday, May 13, 2017. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
A series of unlikely and bizarre events can conspire to lead a largely unheralded team to a surprising Stanley Cup title.
For instance, the Chicago Blackhawks can get swept in the opening round of the playoffs after a dominant regular season. The defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins can be eliminated much earlier than expected.
A team can enter the playoffs as a longshot, lose their first game, endure early questions about their goaltending and yet, finish with nothing but superlatives about their netminding.
A string of unexpected players can suddenly emerge in the spotlight of postseason overtime to lead a team to one nail-biting victory after another.
We are, of course, talking about the 1993 Montreal Canadiens, who experienced all of the above before knocking off Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings to win it all.
Who else did you think we were talking about?
Twenty-four years ago, destiny was clearly calling the Canadiens, who won a record 10 games in overtime — with seven different overtime goal scorers — en route to the title. The 1993 Canadiens also remain the last Canadian team to win the Stanley Cup.
Now, does anyone out there believe in history repeating itself?
Here come the Ottawa Senators, fast writing a story that verges on plagiarism.
When Bobby Ryan burned past Olli Maatta in overtime and scored the winner on Marc-Andre Fleury to give the Senators the early lead on Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference final Saturday, it marked Ottawa’s sixth extra time victory of the playoffs.
Ryan has scored two of the overtime goals, with Dion Phaneuf, Clarke MacArthur, Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Kyle Turris netting the others.
When the Canadiens entered the third round of the playoffs in 1993, they, too, had won five games in overtime.
From there, the ridiculous run of good fortune and the unexplainable — defenceman Eric Desjardins capped a hat trick performance by scoring in overtime — continued.
At this point, anyway, there also appears to be something special in the air for the Senators — Pageau capped his four-goal performance by scoring in overtime — when the puck drops for overtime.
“I don’t know if it’s that we’re comfortable with it,” centre Zack Smith said as the Senators enjoyed a day away from the ice in Pittsburgh Sunday.
“You just gain a little momentum from the first (overtime victory) in the first round. We’ve kind of had that feeling from the start that we had nothing to lose. You don’t go out there (in overtime) afraid to make mistakes.”
Smith says the Senators’ success in tight games during the regular season — 21 of their 44 victories were by one goal, sixth in the league — has given them the confidence to not panic under the stress.
Of the Senators’ nine playoff wins so far, eight have been by one goal. The other was the 4-2 win — including an empty net goal from Pageau — over the New York Rangers in Game 6 that clinched the Eastern Conference semifinal series.
“That’s something we’ve learned throughout the season,” said Smith. “Everyone knows they just need one chance to score and we’ve had a lot of contributions from different players in that way, too.”
For Boucher, it boils down to an all business approach. Bad stuff can and will happen, but if you stick to the formula that has provided a fair measure of success, you will win more often than not.
“I don’t think our attitude changes (in overtime),” he said. “There’s no change before the game, between periods. Whether we score a goal or we get scored on, that’s what we’ve acquired over time. We stay calm, regardless of what’s happening.”
After Evgeni Malkin scored to tie Saturday’s game 1-1 with 5:35 remaining in regulation, Penguins fans were on their feet and in full voice. The Senators survived the noise and waited for their opportunity.
“When they scored their goal, nothing changed on the bench,” said Boucher. “And it was the same in overtime. We didn’t do any extraordinary things. We just did the ordinary well and we stuck to it.”
Clarke MacArthur echoed Boucher’s words about the Senators maintaining their focus after Malkin’s goal.
“They scored late in the third and I loved the reaction on the bench,” he said. “It was just ‘stick to it, we’re playing a good game, stick to the game plan and we’ll get our chances and that’s what happened.’”
As much as the parallels between the Senators of today and the Canadiens of a previous generation are intriguing, nobody in the dressing room is dreaming, looking too far ahead. They expect nothing but the best from the Penguins in Game 2 Monday.
“We talk about it,” said Smith. “We don’t let too much go to our head. We’re not just happy to be here. We want to keep pushing and get better every day. Keeping a level head has been a big part of it.”
MOST OVERTIME WINS IN ONE PLAYOFF YEAR
10: Montreal Canadiens (1993):
7: Anaheim Mighty Ducks (2003)
7: Carolina Hurricanes (2002)
*6: Ottawa Senators (2017):
6: Vancouver Canucks (1994)
6: New York Islanders (1980)