Sunday, June 10, 2007

06-07 Recap Continued: Round One

At various points throughout the season, be it after a particularly disheartening loss or a flatteringly dominant win, fans who skewed both sides of the "glass debate" used it to their advantage in correlating it to the Senators playoff drive. An embarrassing blowout to some indicated that the Senators lacked the heart, drive, grit and determination necessary to compete for the Cup. Or that the Senators' inept goaltending and anemic scoring was clearly insufficient to mount any considerable threat come the post-season. To others, a regular season loss meant nothing, with qualification to the post-season being the sole purpose of the season - the details in how they achieved this were less than an afterthought.

It is a particularly interesting viewpoint, especially if the Senators' dismal start is taken as proof of the players themselves latching on to this philosophy. Frustrated with their quick dismissal in the 2006 playoffs, players and fans alike couldn't wait to get what essentially amounts to an extended exhibition period in the eyes of some over with, to begin the real season - the 2007 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Though the Senators exact playoff opponent wasn't officially determined until the last week of the season, the final month of the 06-07 campaign all but established that the Senators would be playing one of two Atlantic division teams: the stalwart, defensive New Jersey Devils or the neophyte Penguins.

Both carried their advantages and disadvantages; the Devils were a world-class organisation awash with veterans, leadership, and Cup-winning experience, still boasted the best goaltender in the world in Martin Brodeur, and continued to play the defensive hockey that had won it three recent Cups. However, they lacked the tenacious defensemen who had made the Devils run - Scott Niedermayer, Scott Stevens and Ken Daneyko - and were in the midst of a leadership crisis, with the head coach being fired just days before the playoffs despite winning their division crown.

The Pittsburgh Penguins represented a challenge unique to anything the Senators had encountered in past playoffs (except for Gary Roberts). A young team destined for greatness, their naivete, enthuiasm and youthful love of the game was potential enough to push them over the top. Oh, and they have Sidney Crosby. However, the very inexperience which made them such an indeterminable threat may also prove to be their undoing against the war-tested Senators, thoroughly embarrassed in the 05-06 playoffs and unwilling to meet the same disappointing fate again.

Understandably, the debate that raged on among fans mattered little in determining the actual result; the Senators would face Pittsburgh no matter how well they matched up against them.

The days leading up to the start of the 2007 playoffs were wrought with considerable tension in Ottawa. First, the general nervousness in anticipation of the unknown - the Senators could be swept in 4, win the Stanley Cup with an unprecedented 16-0 run, or end up somewhere in the expansive gulf between. After nearly a full year since their last opportunity to challenge for the Cup, there was considerable impatience. Second, the layoff between the conclusion of the regular season and the beginning of the playoffs left a little too much time to reflect on past playoff disappointments in the Ottawa media. Of particular notoriety was an Ottawa Citizen article in which columnist Allen Panzeri labelled the Senators "choking dogs"; the comment opened the floodgates. Jason Spezza responded to criticism of past Senators attempts, and by association, the "inevitable" choke this year, but explaining that the team is entirely different this season, with new coaching staff and leaders. Bryan Murray addressed the media more succinctly: any association between the Senators and choking was, in a word, "bullshit". And with that, the stage was set.