The Ottawa Senators weren't expected to qualify for the 2012 NHL playoffs. In fact, most people believed that the Sens would yet again be a lottery team this season, stumbling around in the depths of the Eastern Conference, trying to find their way out of their wet paper bag of misery.
But here they are, the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference. The Sens stumbled a bit at the end of the season, falling to that eighth spot after challenging for the Northeast Division title late, but all that matters in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is qualification. From there, anything can happen.
Will the Senators be able to knock off the top-seeded New York Rangers in Round 1? We asked Peter Raaymakers from Senators blog Silver Seven to answer a few questions about the surprising club that hopes to ride Paul MacLean's mustache to the promised land.
1) What's the biggest reason you have confidence in the Senators heading into the postseason?
The biggest reason is Craig Anderson, because the team's going to live and die with him. That's not to take anything away from Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson, Milan Michalek, Erik Karlsson, and the rest of the skaters, but goaltending becomes hugely important in the playoffs. Anderson's had a great season so far, and should be ready to go come puck drop.
2) What's the biggest question mark surrounding Ottawa heading into the playoffs?
The suspect D-corps is quite a concern, especially if one of the veterans (Sergei Gonchar, Filip Kuba, or Chris Phillips) is injured. It's been a problem all season long (Ottawa gives up the second most shots per game of any team in the league, ahead of only Carolina), and defending doesn't get any easier in the post-season. Looking at defenders like Gonchar, Karlsson, Kuba, and Matt Gilroy, forecheckers finishing their checks on every dump-in will make things a lot less pleasant in Ottawa's own zone.
3) If there's one player on Senators that will have a breakout playoff campaign, who will it be?
Again, it's got to be Anderson. Young guys like Karlsson and Kyle Turris will also be looking to make an impression, but -- like those two much younger players -- this is only Anderson's second time in the post-season. He'll be looking to stick around longer than the six games he played in 2009-10.
4) When all's said and done, the Sens' playoff chances hinge on...
In case it's not yet obvious, Craig Anderson. After him, the team's bellwethers are Spezza and Karlsson, with significant support from Michalek, Alfredsson, Kuba, and Phillips.
5) Give a prediction. How far will Ottawa go in these Stanley Cup Playoffs?
Considering how awful most Senators-related predictions were heading into the season, everyone should be cautious about calling Ottawa's shot. My heart tells me that the Sens can beat just about any team and, with the right mix of luck and Andersonian heroics, should be able to make waves and make it even as far as the Eastern Conference Finals, but my head thinks they'll put up a valiant effort in the first round but eventually (in six or seven games) lose it.
Follow along with the Senators throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs at Silver Seven.