Saturday, April 29, 2006

The Advancing Legions of Bytown

Five games and the deed is done, the Ottawa Senators advance to the next round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, leaving the Tampa Bay Lightning to ponder changes as their season comes to and end. The Sens by the end of the night had three goals to Tampa's two and four games to Tampa's one, one team advances one goes home, Tampa the team making the summer vacation plans.

Tampa put Sean Burke on the firing line in a last gasp bid to extend their lives in this first playoff round and for the most part he did his part well. Burke by far was the difference between keeping close and being blown out. Time and time again he made key saves on Ottawa's big scorers to allow his Lightning team mates to at least keep the thought of a come back alive. But in the end, the depth of the Senators proved to be the end of road for Tampa Bay.

Every line on this team seems capable of putting a game away, you shut down Alfredsson or Spezza, fine Havlat or Redden will pick up the pace, tonight rookie defenseman Andrej Maeszaros added his name to the goal scoring list, just another Sen doing his part.

With a past history of first round frustrations, the Scotiabank crowd was ecstatic to witness the clinching game of a first round series, a monkey finally off of the back of the team that has shown so much promise over the last few years only to fall short of the ultimate goal.

Ray Emery served notice that a rookie goaltender can make a difference when the money is on the line, showing some remarkable poise for a guy enjoying his first playoff exposure. If anyone was pointing to goal tending as the weak link in the Sens bid for the Stanley Cup, they can put away their fingers, Emery is the real deal, solid and unflappable. His performance in round one should do nothing but build even more confidence from his team mates in his ability to lead them on in the playoffs.

While the Sens continue to try and make things difficult for themselves (the second period was not a stellar twenty minutes for Ottawa and allowed Tampa a glimpse of hope) the difference is this time around they corrected their errors and reclaimed control of the game by the third period. As Tampa coach John Tortella put it, "Ottawa was a better team than us, lets give them credit". Pretty well sums up the series nicely one thinks.

Things were so respectful by the end of the series that Tim Taylor magically appeared with the game puck from game one, Emery's first Playoff victory. Taylor explained that he had kept the puck as a bit of gamesmanshmotivateiviate his team and get Emery off his game. As it turned out Emery stayed on his game and the Bolts needed more than a hidden puck to turn their tide. However, returning the puck was a classy move by the Bolt, who waited to be the last player on the ice to shake Emery's hand and hand over the playoff souvenir. A show of respect that will become part of Senator playoff lore as they travel further into these playoffs.

A one week rest beckons Ottawa now as they await their next opponent, perhaps the Habs, maybe the Sabres or the Flyers, it probably doesn't matter. The Sens are looking solid and believing in themselves, a powerful combination that will be hard to beat.

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