It was, in the opinion of captain Daniel Alfredsson, the strongest all-round playoff series in the Senators’ history.
Indeed, the Sens combined excellent goaltending from Ray Emery, tenacious defence and just enough offensive production to subdue the Pittsburgh Penguins rather easily. Last night, the Sens recorded a shutout — their first in the post-season since 2003 — with a 3-0 triumph. They eliminated Sid the Kid and the Pens in five games.
And now, of course, come the obvious questions.
Can the Sens actually continue to play like this in the next round of the playoffs?
Can they progress to the Stanley Cup championship series?
Can they win the Cup?
Remember, they’ve qualified for the playoffs for 10 consecutive seasons but have never tasted champagne from the Cup.
Remember, they prevailed in the first round of the playoffs last season -—and in five games, too — before being ousted by the Buffalo Sabres.
Remember, beating the Pens isn’t enough for general manager John Muckler and coach Bryan Murray to keep their jobs.
For a few minutes after last night’s game, however, the Sens weren’t thinking about any ominous questions. They simply enjoyed the moment — especially Emery, who blocked 100 of 110 shots in the series, including 20 last night.
Emery’s sharpness was detectable early in the game, when he and the three skaters in front of him prevented the Pens from scoring on a pair of two-man advantages. That was remarkable, really, because the Pens had the most productive power play in the NHL during the regular season.
“Some time in the middle of our season,” Emery said, “we learned to play a tighter defensive game and that’s paying off for us now. I don’t like to even think about what’s happened with this team in the past (post-seasons), but I can tell you we’re different now. We can still score, but we also play tight defensively.”
And they got terrific goaltending.
All of which explains why they dominated the Pens. Still, you can’t help but wonder if they’ll play this way as the playoffs progress, or whether they’ll do what they’ve done so often in the past. That is, choke.