Saturday, April 05, 2008

One door closed, and yet another opened up.

The Ottawa Senators can thank another swooning club for their chance at redemption in hockey's second season. While the Sens were losing another key home game, this time a 2-1 decision to the Boston Bruins, the Carolina Hurricanes were dropping their own "must win" game a four to three loss to the Florida Panthers.

The Carolina loss, moved the Senators into a more solid bit of footing despite their own struggles through the last number of weeks of the regular season.

While it would have taken a number of ill fated stars to align for the Senators to not make the playoffs, the way this season has appeared to be cursed since the turn of the calendar many feared that if such a disaster was to take place, this very well would be the year from it.

As it turns out, the Sens avoid the placement with the legendary meltdowns, the decline from hockey powerhouse to stumbling and unsure bottom feeder was turned aside thanks to former coach Jacques Martin, whose Panthers managed to hold on for their own victory and a game that puts the Hurricanes on the cusp of playoff elimination.

Having run out of games, the Canes can only sit back and watch the surging Washington Capitals make a bid to turn around their own season. With a victory over those very same Panthers, the Caps will snare the third place overall standing by way of a bye as first place finishers in the less than industrious Southeast Division.

Regardless of how they get there, should the Caps take down the Panthers, they will have reversed a horrid start to a season, which saw their coach replaced and their GM make a number of trades that very well may have salvaged the season, with the promise of more to come.

As they began their ascent up the Eastern Conference standings, the Capitals have been accumulating fans along the way, from the flashy play of the likes of Ovechkin and Backstrom, to the goal tending of both Ollie Kolzig and the recently acquired Cristobal Huet, the Caps suddenly have become everyone's favourite second team.

A Capital loss against the Panthers will probably generate more feelings of sadness than any number of established teams vying for the Stanley Cup. The Caps have caught the imagination of the hockey fan and would make a pretty interesting sub story should they take that final step by the time the regular season is officially declared over on Sunday night.

Boston finally returns to the playoffs based on their win in Ottawa on Friday night, a much desired boost to the hockey morale for the city which had seen hockey tumble down the sporting depth chart in the last few years.

The playoff berth for the Bruins is an opportunity to put behind the struggles of the regular season and provide a reward for their fans, who may finally be seeing some light at the end of the darker days for the Bruins of the last few years.

The playoffs offer each team the chance to continue to play meaningful hockey into the spring, how they fare will all depend on how tightly they can grasp it and chase away the ghosts of the regular season.

Globe and Mail--Sens in playoffs via back door
Globe and Mail--Ovechkin's campaign for the ages
Boston Herald-- Improbable dream team
Boston Globe-- Bear essential
National Post-- Bruins and Senators march on
National Post-- Senators back their way into playoffs
News and Observer-- Now it's waiting game for the Canes
Sun Sentinel-- Panthers can play spoiler
Washington Times-- No. 3 or Bust

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