The Ottawa Senators capped off their Cinderella story on Saturday, defeating the Philadelphia Flyers 3-1 to clinch a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
It’s a fairytale, to say the least.
Seven weeks ago, the idea of Ottawa playing past Apr. 11 was pure fantasy. The Sens were 10 points out of a playoff spot on Feb. 17, but then proceeded to go 21-3-3 — not a typo — to surge into the postseason.
So, how did they get it done?
1: The Hamburglar
The biggest and most obvious reason is the play of Andrew Hammond, the 27-year-old undrafted goalie that took the starting reins in mid-February and proceeded to go on the run of a lifetime. Saturday’s win in Philly pushed Hammond to a remarkable 20-1-2 on the year — yes, just one regulation loss — with a 1.79 GAA and .941 save percentage.
Oh, and three shutouts.
“It’s unbelievable,” Ottawa center Kyle Turris said, per Yahoo. “I’ve never seen a guy come in and make an impact like that and change the season around.”
2: The coaching switch
Remember, this wasn’t a popular move at the time. The Senators took plenty of heat for turfing head coach Paul MacLean on Dec. 8; though they appeared listless at times — and had just an 11-11-5 record — MacLean was held in high regard and just two years removed from winning the Jack Adams as NHL coach of the year.
But the switch to Dave Cameron paid dividends.
Sens GM Bryan Murray described Cameron as “a teacher,” and projected he’d mesh well with a young Senators team that MacLean often chided. The overall sense was Cameron would better relate to young players, whereas MacLean’s tell-it-like-it-is style — though entertaining — started to wear on the group.
“I thought when [MacLean] came here he was a guy that related very well to the players,” Murray explained. “He had been a player himself. He understood what it took to play in the NHL. But it seemed that kind of drifted. Maybe it’s the pressure of the business here. Maybe you guys are too tough on our people.
“But very definitely he became more demanding of some of the players, and more critical of some of the players.”
Cameron took over with 55 games left in the regular season. Since then, the Sens have gone 32-15-8.
3: The kids
This one’s in lockstep with No.2. Whereas MacLean was nervous about his roster — “I’m just scared to death every day of who we’re playing,” he infamously uttered just prior to his firing — Cameron embraced Ottawa’s youth and gave the kids bigger roles.
The biggest beneficiary? Mark Stone.
Stone, Ottawa’s rookie forward, has blossomed under Cameron — he scored 35 points over Ottawa’s last 31 games of the year and pushed himself into a Calder Trophy conversation that, for most of the season, had been comprised of Johnny Gaudreau, Aaron Ekblad and Filip Forsberg.
As the season went along, Stone became a vital part of this team. He got decent minutes from MacLean, but nothing like what he’s received from Cameron; Stone had at least 20 minutes in four straight games from Mar. 31 to Apr. 7, and seemed to thrive with the increased workload — in Saturday’s win over Philly, he scored the opening marker and insurance tally for his 25th and 26th goals of the year.
“Stone has definitely developed into a solid player,” Sens captain Erik Karlsson said, per the Sun. “He just keeps raising the bar for himself and that’s what you want from a player to keep challenging yourself.
“I really think he has done that and we can’t really ask him to do much more than he has.”
To be fair, the Sens relied on more youngsters than just Stone. Fellow rookie Mike Hoffman has been great while the likes of Curtis Lazar (19 years old) Mika Zibanejad (21), Cody Ceci (21) and Jean-Gabriel Pageau (22) all found increased roles under Cameron, and responded well.
Also — in the interest of fairness — credit has to go to Ottawa’s scouting department. While Ceci, Lazar and Zibanejad were first-rounders, the likes of Stone (178th overall in 2010), Hoffman (130th overall in 2009) and Pageau (96th overall in 2011) were all late-round finds.