The regular season has come to an end with 16 of the NHL's 30 teams having survived the 82-game grind. The most exciting two-week period of the year for a hockey fan will see those qualifiers engaging in intense battles with division rivals to advance to the next round where they will be required to do it all again. The best-of-seven series leave no room for error, as each loss forces a team closer to the edge of elimination.
A slow start to begin the season forced the Sens into a situation that required near perfection in the second half of the season, but Andrew Hammond, Mark Stone, and Erik Karlsson were up to that challenge. Ottawa overcame a 14-point deficit to the final Eastern Conference playoff seed to force their way into the post-season with a game 82 victory. They now stand on equal footing with teams that took more efficient paths to reach the second season.
Teams like the Montreal Canadiens that had already gained a spot and spent their final few games of the season attempting to improve their position. In Montreal's case, the club used their victory in the final regular season game to win their division and claim second place in the NHL in the process, giving them guaranteed home ice advantage in the first two rounds, possibly extending to the whole of the post-season if they are to face a team other than the number-one New York Rangers in the event of advancement to the Conference Final.
But you don't get to take full advantage of that home ice advantage if you lose in the first round, and the Ottawa Senators have proven that they are more than capable of knocking off the Atlantic Division champions.
How to Watch
Start time: 7:00 PM EDT / 4:00 PM PDT / 23:00 UTC
In Canada: CBC (English), TVA (En Français)
In the USA: NHL Network
Elsewhere: NHL GameCenter Live
||Score-Adjusted Fenwick %||52.9%
||5v5 Goal Ratio||1.5
Keys to the Game
The Montreal Canadiens begin their quest for the Stanley Cup at the Bell Centre tonight with the major advantage of having the NHL's best goaltender between the pipes. After breaking a single-season wins record of a team that has competed in over 100 of those seasons, and locking up not only the Vezina Trophy, but probably the Hart Trophy as the league's most valuable player as well, Carey Price will be the main determining factor in whether the Habs get to the second round.
Price's ability to keeps pucks out of his net will be even more important with the absence of the player who is the most prolific at putting them in the one at the opposite end. Max Pacioretty has not been granted permission to resume competitive action (at the time of publication) after sustaining what appeared to be a concussion on April 5th. With the 37-goal scorer out of the lineup, production will have to come from the likes of goal-scoring runner-up Tomas Plekanec, big moment performer Lars Eller, and young guns Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk.
Scoring won't be easy for the Canadiens, either, as they face the man who was instrumental in helping the Senators steal a playoff spot from the Boston Bruins in the final week of the season. Andrew Hammond had an incredible run for Ottawa, losing in regulation just once in 23 starts.
After playing at such an elevated level just to qualify for the post-season, can Hammond and the red-hot Ottawa Senators maintain that quality of play now that they've arrived at the main event?
The teams will begin to answer these questions posed to them tonight when the real NHL season begins.