Yesterday, I wrote about how the Ottawa Senators were the only team to open the playoffs as a home underdog, and a big one at that. It makes sense – the Boston Bruins’ underlying numbers are some of the best in the league, and the Senators are the only team to qualify for the playoffs as a negative goal differential team.
So, does that mean all is lost? I don’t think so. Here are three reasons I think the Senators have a good shot at coming out on top.
1. Craig Anderson: The Senators’ No. 1 goalie remains one of the best in the league, posting a .926 save percentage en route to a 25-11-4 record. The negative goal differential thing is significant, but had Anderson not missed large chunks of the season to be with his wife during her cancer battle, Ottawa might well be a plus team. He also doesn’t have the wear and tear on his body that a 65-game season would have provided. In the Boston goal, meanwhile, Tuukka Rask hasn’t been his old self. A career .923 goalie, Rask is lagging at .915 this year.
2. Regular season record: While I’m loath to put much stock in such a small sample size of games, there is some evidence that regular season match-ups are not totally insignificant. The Senators beat the Bruins all four times they played, three times in regulation. For whatever reason, they seem to match up well against Boston.
3. Injuries: Senators coach Guy Boucher gave a really good interview with the French podcast On Jase recently, in which he discussed the significance of injuries to different players. He seemed totally unperturbed by the prospect of losing forwards to injury, but described a couple of scenarios as “catastrophic”: losing your No. 1 goalie, and losing more than one of your top three defencemen. This coincided with Ottawa losing all three of its top-three defencemen, which contributed to a swoon that put them at risk of missing the playoffs. While the Senators’ health appears to be rounding into form just in time for the playoffs, it appears the Bruins are set to start without their No. 2 and No.3 blueliner. Brandon Carlo doesn’t score a lot, but he’s reliable and eats a lot of minutes. The real blow is losing Torey Krug, Boston’s main puck-mover. The Senators play a patient game and are content to suffocate you through the neutral zone and wait for their opportunities, and without a guy to punch through, Boston will find it slow going. Making matters worse is Ottawa’s home ice advantage, which will allow them to get the match-ups they want.
Ottawa is the underdog, and rightly so. But would I be surprised to see them head back to Boston for Game 3 with a 2-0 series lead? Nah.
James Gordon is a former Ottawa Citizen NHL writer and sports editor. Follow him on Twitter here.