With 14 games remaining in the NHL regular season, the Ottawa Senators are making an unlikely push for the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. If the Boston Bruins weren’t the team in their way, I’d say they had a pretty good shot.
The good news is that even though the Bruins have a 5 point advantage, with 82 points on the season, the Senators have a game in hand. Better still, the Washington Capitals hold the other Wild Card spot and are only 2 points ahead of the Bruins and with one fewer game to play.
If the Senators can power through the rest of the NHL schedule with the same confidence and striking momentum, they might just find themselves back in the playoffs in 2015, after failing to qualify last season.
Right now, the Senators are the hottest team in the NHL. They have an 8-1-1 record in their last 10 games, tied with the New York Rangers for best in the NHL, and where once they seemed destined to finish beside the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs, the Sens have an almost 30% chance of making the playoffs as of Monday.
The recent surge is thanks to a number of factors, the most important of which are the commitment of the team’s captain and the near-historical debut of a 27-year-old netminder due to injuries.
First the team lost would-be starting goalie Craig Anderson to a hand problem. Then, on February 17th, the team lost Robin Lehner after a collision with teammate Clarke McArthur. Rookie goaltender Andrew Hammond replaced Lehner in the game and the rest, as they say, is history.
Since his debut on February 18th, a 4-2 Victory over the Conference-leading Montreal Canadiens, Hammond has 10 wins and has yet to allow more than two goals in a game. Only one other goaltender in NHL history has performed a similar feat; and this from a player who went undrafted, who was signed by the Senators in 2013 and sent directly to their AHL affiliate in Birmingham.
During his remarkable run, Hammond has posted an impressive .955 SV% and 1.39 GAA against some very good teams. The Senators have wins against the Montreal Canadiens (twice), New York Islanders, Anaheim Ducks, LA Kings and San Jose Sharks. Hammond’s 3 wins last week earned him 3rd Star NHL honours for the week ending March 15th, thanks to a 3-0-0 record, a 1.30 GAA and .957 SV%. Not bad for a 27-year-old rookie.
Hammond is not doing it on his own, however. The team may have confidence in Hammond but captain Erik Karlsson has also come into his own in the last month and has been the offensive backbone of the team’s recent success. In the last 13 games, Karlsson has five goals and 12 points.
Even with exceptional goaltending and a captain who’s finally inured himself to the role, the Senators have an upwards battle into the playoffs. Though they have win-able games against the Carolina Hurricanes and Toronto Maple Leafs coming up, they also have crucial contests against the Boston Bruins, Florida Panthers and Washington Capitals, all teams trying to solidify a position in the post-season.
The Hamburgler will not face a bigger test than the Boston Bruins on Thursday when the teams meet at the Canadian Tire Centre but we think he’s up to the challenge.
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