Senators are Canada's last hope in NHL playoffs
The Ottawa Senators, the last Canadian team left in the NHL playoffs, are welcoming all aboard the bandwagon.
''Lots of room. We've got a big one,'' forward Jason Spezza said Monday before facing the Rangers in Game 6.
The Senators haven't found themselves in this position since 2007, when they advanced to the Stanley Cup final and were beaten by Anaheim in five games.
Few would have guessed they'd be in this spot. But a surprisingly good run coupled with Vancouver's shocking first-round exit Sunday night left the spotlight shining solely on the Senators. The other five Canadian teams missed the playoffs.
''When you set your goals you don't say 'We want to be the last Canadian team around,''' Spezza said. ''You just want to be the last team standing period. That's all we want to do, is focus on winning our series and keep moving on.''
The Senators entered Monday night's Game 6 with a chance to complete an upset of the Rangers, the top team in the Eastern Conference. In the West, the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings pulled off the same feat against Vancouver.
Ottawa has received strong goaltending in the postseason from Craig Anderson.
''I think he gives his teammates confidence to play and gives them the ability to go on the ice and just be able to play,'' coach Paul MacLean said.
And important contributions are coming from unexpected sources. Mark Stone, a 19-year-old forward, had an assist in his first NHL game Saturday after joining the team from the Western Hockey League.
It will likely be tough for some fans across the country to embrace the Senators, particularly those partial to the Montreal Canadiens or Toronto Maple Leafs.
But forward Kyle Turris, who grew up in British Columbia, and joined Ottawa in a December trade from Phoenix, thinks people paying attention to the team for the first time will find a lot to like.
''We've never given up and we've really come together as a team chemistrywise,'' Turris said. ''I think it shows on the ice.''
Those looking for other options might consider turning to Florida, which has used 15 Canadian players in these playoffs, the most of any team still alive. Boston has employed 14 and St. Louis 13. Eleven have played for Ottawa.
Either way, the Senators are now tasked with trying to end the country's Stanley Cup drought. The Canadiens were the last team from Canada to lift the trophy. That was in 1993 when they were still playing at the Forum.
This was supposed to be a rebuilding year in the nation's capital, but something special has taken hold. Captain Daniel Alfredsson never thought his team would be the last Canadian team playing meaningful hockey. Quite frankly, he wasn't even sure the Senators would make the postseason.
''It's not something you think about or want to do,'' he said. ''We just want to focus on what we're going to do. We wanted to put ourselves in a position to be in the playoffs, first and foremost, and then compete hard in the playoffs. We're doing that and we want to keep going.''
But there's no denying the achievement.
''It's obviously something to be proud of,'' Spezza said. ''We're still playing.''