OTTAWA â€” Pierre Dorion always knew the Ottawa Senators were a playoff team.
Hired as Ottawa’s GM after the franchise missed the NHL post-season last year, Dorion has seen a transformation of sorts this season. Under first-year head coach Guy Boucher, the Senators finished second in the Atlantic Division to cement a playoff berth.
Ottawa now faces the Boston Bruins in the post-season for the first time in club history. But when the Senators open the series Wednesday night at the Canadian Tire Centre, they’ll have home-ice advantage to start a series for the first time since ’07 when they reached the Stanley Cup final.
“It was a year ago today that I felt this team was a playoff team,” said Dorion, who was hired April 10, 2016. “We’re in the playoffs, time to make some noise.
“Where we’ve gone from a year ago to now, we’re headed in the right direction.”
Ottawa was 4-0 against Boston this year but that means nothing to Dorion.
“We’re going to have to be at our best to have any chance to win the series,” said Dorion. “They’ve got players who’ve won the Cup on that team.
“I think changing their coach gave them a spark.”
Bruce Cassidy leads Boston into the playoffs after taking over as coach in February when Claude Julien was fired.
For the first time this season, all of Ottawa’s forwards are healthy and available. With 15 players at his disposal, Boucher has some tough decisions to make.
“I know (Mark) Stone will be in the top-12,” said Boucher. “It’s going to be a tough choice and I’m really happy.
“Depth is one thing, but quality depth is another and we feel that we’ve got quality depth now.”
It would appear veteran Chris Neil, who played Sunday for the first time since Feb. 26, is an obvious choice. It could then come down to Ryan Dzingel, Tommy Wingels and Chris Kelly.
It’s unlikely Kelly would be a healthy scratch. He’s played in 90 career playoff games â€” winning a Stanley Cup with Boston in 2011 â€” and was signed for his experience and leadership.
Defenceman Erik Karlsson will return after missing the last three regular-season games with a lower-body injury, Dorion said Methot, who hasn’t played since March 23 due to a finger injury, has a very good chance of being ready Wednesday.
Ottawa has won one playoff round in nine years and missed the post-season four times. Subsequently, the club added a number of veteran players with playoff experience.
Derick Brassard and Kelly were acquired in the off-season, while Alex Burrows, Viktor Stalberg and Tommy Wingels all arrived prior to the trade deadline. All have played 40 or more playoff games.
“You want guys that have gone through the grind of the playoffs,” said Dorion. “We all know experience means something, all those guys had experience.”
When Ottawa endured a five-game losing stretch and dropped in the standings late in the season, Boucher said it was the veteran players who helped make a difference.
“That’s why we’re in the playoffs right now,” Boucher said. “It’s that through tough times it wasn’t just about having bodies, it was having the right bodies that were going to help the guys.”
Regardless of who’s in the lineup, Ottawa will need to find a way to create offence. Since March 1, the club is 26th overall in goals for, averaging 2.33 per game.
Stone hasn’t scored in a career-high 15 games while Bobby Ryan just ended his career-high 13-game drought with a goal in the final regular-season game. Zack Smith, Brassard and Dzingel have combined for just six goals since March 1.
“Every game gets tighter down the stretch,” Dorion said. “I think if you look at it as a whole, (in) the whole league there was less goals being scored at the end.
“I know we had a bit of a rough patch but I think at the end of the day it’s going to be the best thing for us because it showed us that we had to work for every win we needed to get.”
Lisa Wallace, The Canadian Press