Welcome back to the Last Word on Hockey’s summer series where we look at the biggest game in team history. Each day we will be back with a new team to look at. Looking at things like the lead-up, what happened, followed, and why it makes it the biggest game. The biggest game does not automatically mean a win, either. Sometimes, it can be a loss that set the franchise back massively. Sit back and enjoy as we break down all 31 team’s most important game. This is the Ottawa Senators biggest game in franchise history. The full series is found here.
Ottawa Senators Biggest Game
The Ottawa Senators as the league knows them have always been a turbulent franchise. They share a name but not the history of the original Senators, who won 11 Stanley Cups from 1917 until 1934. There would be no professional hockey in Ottawa until 1992, when the modern Senators claimed the Canadian capital. Throughout their 27 NHL seasons, the Senators have seen many highs and lows. The franchise went to their first and only Stanley Cup Final in 2007, which would they would ultimately lose. However, their biggest game came several years prior — the game that made their success in the mid-2000s possible.
Senators Biggest Game
When the Senators began play in 1992, they had a simple strategy — aim low and secure high draft picks. This strategy worked for Ottawa, who finished with a league worst record their first three seasons in a row. Despite drafting the single biggest bust in NHL history, this strategy helped the Senators build a core of competent players. In 1996, the Senators made the playoffs for the first time. The franchise’s biggest game would not come until the 2001-02 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Coming into the 2001-02 season, the Senators were optimistic. Despite two consecutive playoff exits at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Senators had a stable front office and a talented group of core players to build around. The first move of the season was made on draft day. Ottawa traded their controversial captain, Alexei Yashin, to the New York Islanders in exchange for Zdeno Chara, Bill Muckalt, and the draft pick that would become Jason Spezza. The season itself wasn’t anything special, but they secured another trip to the playoffs with 94 points. The Senators saw five players score over 30 goals, including Daniel Alfredsson‘s 37 and Marian Hossa‘s 31.
2002 Stanley Cup Playoffs – Round 1
The seventh-seeded Ottawa Senators went into the first round as heavy underdogs against the second seed Philadelphia Flyers. Although it took overtime, the Flyers lived up to their billing as the favorites in Game 1, winning 1-0 thanks to a goal from Ruslan Fedotenko.
The Senators offensive drought lasted exactly one game. Backed by three consecutive shutouts from Patrick Lalime, the Senators scored 9 goals in Games 2-4. Hossa and Alfredsson each found the back of the net twice in that span. Game 5 would see yet another overtime period, but this time, fortune did not favor the Flyers. After Alfredsson and Dan McGillis of the Flyers traded goals in the first, the lamp would not light again until overtime. Ottawa’s Martin Havlat scored his first goal of the playoffs on the power-play to propel Ottawa to the second round.
Senators Biggest Game Lead-up – Round 2
For the third year in a row, the Senators found themselves matched up against the rival Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs were the clear winners in what was dubbed “The Battle of Ontario” so far. After two consecutive losses to their provincial rivals, the Senators wanted nothing more than to advance to the third round at the Leafs expense. After a 5-0 blowout win in Game 1 in front of the Leafs home crowd, it looked like a distinct possibility.
Game 2 required three overtime periods to settle, but by the time Toronto’s Gary Roberts finally found the back of the net, the series was tied as it shifted back to Ottawa. Ottawa countered Toronto’s win, taking Game 3. Lalime was playing at the top of his game, Alfredsson, Chara, Hossa and Havlat were playing well, and the Senators were focused on the series win.
Game 4 saw yet another traded win. Toronto defeated Ottawa 2-1 in yet another goaltender duel. The Senators stole the series lead back with a 4-2 win in Game 5 despite only putting 20 shots on Curtis Joseph. The team returned to Ottawa with a chance to clinch the series at home. The chance slipped through their fingers as Toronto won Game 6, 4-3. Despite goals from Hossa, Alfredsson, and Todd White, the Leafs seemed to have solved Lalime. He gave up 4 goals on only 19 shots.
Ottawa Senators Biggest Game – Game 7
The Ottawa Senators went into Game 7 hoping to recapture the magic of the first night of their series. Lalime, who played poorly in Game 6, looked just as solid as his counterpart through the first 20 minutes of the game. At the end of the first period, the game was tied at 0.
The deadlock was finally broken at 11:49 of the second period. Toronto’s Alexander Mogilny scored his sixth goal of the playoffs on the power-play. The second period finished without any more scoring. Only down by a goal with 20 minutes left to play, the Senators still had a very real chance of taking control of this game back.
Mogilny added his second goal of the game and seventh of the playoffs just 5:14 into the third period. From there on, the ice tilted immensely in favor of the Leafs, and the game ended 3-0 Toronto after a late goal by Bryan McCabe. Despite the do-or-die nature of this game and the bitter rivalry with Toronto, the Senators only managed 19 shots on goal — all of which were handled by Joseph. For the third year straight, the Senators were the definitive losers of the battle of Ontario.
Senators Biggest Game – The Aftermath
Not all franchise-changing games are defined strictly by what happens on the ice. A routine 3-0 loss may not seem like much, even in the playoffs. Sometimes, how a franchise responds to a loss is what defines the biggest moments in their history. After losing to the Leafs for the third year in a row, the Ottawa Senators filed for bankruptcy during the off-season.
Even more adversity came from multiple off-ice issues. Despite the growing pressure from the fans and media to win, and the turbulent front office, Ottawa responded by having their best season ever in 2002-03, winning the Eastern Conference and finishing first in the league — earning them the Presidents’ Trophy. Ottawa’s toughness in the face of adversity was born that night at the Air Canada Centre when they saw their playoff dreams slip away again. They responded with a fantastic season. Only a few short years later, that Ottawa team would challenge for the greatest prize in sports – The Stanley Cup.
Biggest Game – Honorable Mention
Sometimes, make-or-break moments result in breaks. In the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals, the Senators suffered their most devastating loss in franchise history. They lost in double overtime of Game 7 to the Pittsburgh Penguins — only a single goal away from another Stanley Cup Final appearance. The Senators were a team that looked to be getting better. That loss set them back an enormous amount. Since that near-finals appearance, the Senators have had controversy both on and off the ice and lost amazing veteran talent in questionable trade deals. They are now one of the worst teams in the league.
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