Things that got me thinking on an unseasonably chilly spring day in Toronto:
Is there a chance the Ottawa Senators might actually make a run for the playoffs this season? It seems almost impossible, but if they keep playing the way they have and the Florida Panthers and Montreal Canadiens continue to make a turtle race of it, you have to think they’ll at least make things a little interesting.
In order to get the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, it’s not unreasonable to suggest a team would need somewhere in the range of 92 points. For that to happen, the Senators would almost have to run the table the rest of the way, gaining 18 points in their final 10 games; seven of which are on the road. Then they’d have to hope both the Canadiens and Panthers continue to stumble by basically going .500 in their final 10 games.
The latter is certainly possible; the former would require some kind of miracle. To put it more simply, any combination of points gained by the Canadiens and lost by the Senators adding up to 13 officially eliminates the Senators from the playoffs (since the Canadiens already win the tiebreaker). The magic number for the Panthers over the Senators is 15 (because the tiebreak winner has not yet been determined).
All of which brings us to what to do with the Senators. Had they continued to play miserably for new coach Cory Clouston, the decisions this summer in Ottawa would have been a lot easier and the housecleaning wouldn’t have been able to begin quickly enough.
But now, with a 15-6-3 record since taking over for Craig Hartsburg, Clouston has all but assured himself of a long-term deal as head coach once the season ends and he might just have saved both Bryan Murray’s job as GM and Jason Spezza’s place in Ottawa. To be sure, Murray will have much more credibility this summer when he makes his case for next season. Having a coach to whom the players respond has made a world of difference and if Pascal Leclaire can return to form next season, the Senators might have their goaltending woes placed firmly in the past.
As far as Spezza is concerned, it will be much more difficult to make the decision to trade him if the Senators continue their torrid pace and finish the season strongly.
In fact, the Senators might just think they’re a player or two away from being a serious contender again and that blowing it up wouldn’t be the best course of action.
Perhaps the worst is behind the Senators or maybe they’re simply playing better because a group that has never responded well to high expectations isn’t facing any at the moment.
Chances are we’ll find out next season with essentially the same cast of characters.
THAT WAS QUICK
There are a number of NHL records that will likely never be broken, and one of them was set 57 years ago today.
The Chicago Blackhawks faced the New York Rangers in the final game of the season March 23, 1952. It was a nothing game since both teams were destined to miss the playoffs.
But Bill Mosienko of the Black Hawks made it a game for the ages when he scored at 6:09, 6:20 and 6:30 of the third period as the Hawks came back from a 6-2 deficit to win 7-6.
Of course, it’s possible someone might break Mosienko’s record some day, but in today’s game of 30-45 second shifts, it seems almost impossible the same player would be in a position to score three times that quickly. You can bet if one player scored two goals in 11 seconds the way Mosienko did, the offending players would be nailed to the bench and the defensive dogs would be called out.
What makes the Mosienko record so impressive is that nobody else has even approached it since. There have been two goals scored in as quickly as four seconds, but the closest anyone has come to equaling Mosienko’s mark was when Jean Beliveau scored three goals in 44 seconds four seasons after Mosienko set the mark.
But even then, Beliveau scored all three goals while the Canadiens were enjoying a two-man advantage, something that wouldn’t happen today. In fact, it was Beliveau’s outburst that prompted the NHL to change the rules to allow players serving a minor penalty to return to the ice after a goal is scored by the opposing team.
If the Canadiens do make the playoffs and slip in with the eighth-place seed, the Boston Bruins might rue their first-place finish in the Eastern Conference. The Bruins have historically proved generally incapable of defeating the Canadiens in the playoffs, winning just seven of 31 playoff series’ all-time.
This year’s matchup, should it occur, might bring back memories of 1970-71, when the powerhouse Bruins finished 24 points ahead of the Canadiens in the regular season, only to lose to the Habs in seven games in the first round of the playoffs.
In Game 2 of that first round series, the Canadiens were trailing 5-1 in the second period and an eight-year-old lad in Sudbury was torn between watching the rest of the hockey game or listening to Jesus Christ Superstar on the radio with his sister.
The young lad opted to stay with the hockey game, the Canadiens scored five third-period goals to win 7-5 and a lifelong bond with the Canadiens was formed.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesday and Fridays and his column, Campbell’s Cuts, appears Mondays.
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