It has taken more than five weeks of nearly flawless play, but with a 5-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks last night, the Ottawa Senators finally returned to a playoff position for the first time since November. The two points in the home win pulled the Senators into the final wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference, as they hold a slim one-point margin over the Boston Bruins with one game in hand over their Atlantic division rivals. Ottawa currently sits at 85 points with ten games remaining on the season. Don’t look now, but they only trail the Detroit Red Wings by four points for third place in the Atlantic division. Returning to a playoff spot is cause for much celebration in Ottawa, but it will only a temporarily-held position unless the Senators continue to win far more than they lose.
Though the entire team has performed admirably since the 6-3 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on February 16th that saw Robin Lehner injured, it has been the record-setting appearances by rookie netminder Andrew Hammond which have electrified the entire city (and nation, to a certain extent). The “Hamburglar” has delighted fans and the media alike with his improbable 14-0-1 record, bolstered by a stingy .946 save percentage and 1.67 goals-against average. In the absence of the top two goaltenders on the Senators depth chart, Hammond has provided the best creasework in the entire NHL over the past month.
Hammond’s heroics haven’t been the only thing propelling the Senators forward since mid-February, however. Though it has mostly been offense by committee, certain individuals have managed to stand out. Captain Erik Karlsson, of course, leads the way. Since the return of his stalwart defensive partner Marc Methot, Karlsson has gone from a minus player to +10 on the season. He leads all NHL defensemen in points (59), and sits second in goals (19) and assists (40). Ottawa has four players above the 50-point plateau in Bobby Ryan, Kyle Turris, and rookie Mark Stone, and Mike Hoffman and Mika Zibanejad are not far behind. In fact, Kyle Turris was the NHL’s second star of the week and could have added another couple goals last night were it not for a post and a great block by Brent Burns of the Sharks.
So the Senators have battled incredibly hard to return to a playoff position, but their hold on the final wildcard spot still remains tenuous. With just ten games remaining on the schedule and the Boston Bruins and Florida Panthers nipping at Ottawa’s heels, the team will need to keep up similar performances if still want to play hockey once the post-season kicks in. Zack Smith has returned to full-health, Clarke MacArthur is nearing a return, and the Sens will soon have two great goalies from which to choose. Who could ask for anything better? Bring it on!