Fans of the Ottawa Senators should savor the opportunity to watch Daniel Alfredsson in these playoffs.
It just might be the captain’s Stanley Cup hurrah.
“I look at it as, it could be my last playoffs,” Alfredsson said on Monday, following the Senators first practice in preparation for Thursday’s playoff opener in New York against the first place Rangers.
“I’m going to treat it as such, too,” Alfredsson said. “Who knows, even if I play next year, if we get back in the playoffs. You just want to make sure you enjoy it, and make the most of it.”
‘Alfie’s Last Stand’ makes a good rallying cry for a team of mostly younger players, with a sprinkle of veterans such as Chris Phillips, Jason Spezza, Chris Neil and Sergei Gonchar, among others. Alfredsson speaks for himself and the rest of the club when he says:
“Just play your hearts out and don’t leave anything wanting at the end of it.”
You know, like Alfie has done his entire career, since taking the NHL by storm with rookie of the year honors in 1995-96.
He’s 39 now, and the NHL’s longest-serving captain – a proven playoff performer with 45 goals and 88 points in 107 postseason games. And yet, was it really 14 years ago that Alfredsson led the charge in that stunning upset of the the New Jersey Devils, the first playoff series victory for the modern Senators?
That 1 vs. 8 matchup with the Devils was similar to this week’s series featuring the conference champion Rangers and the No. 8 Senators. Alfredsson recalls taking particular delight in the upset of the Devils, as orchestrated by head coach Jacques Martin.
“When Jacques came in, early in ’96, we started building a foundation and it was pretty much based on what New Jersey was doing,” Alfredsson says.
Wasn’t that the truth. We used to joke that, for thrills, Jacques used to lock himself in the video room and watch tapes of the Devils, coached by Jacques Lemaire, squeezing the life out of some poor opponent – boa constrictor style — in a 1-0 or 2-1, Devils win.
“We end up playing them and beating them at their own game,” Alfredsson said. “And that was really gratifying.
“I remember some of the comments from New Jersey after, they felt that they lost it, we didn’t win it. That made us feel even better, because we knew we frustrated them.”
The Senators didn’t miss a playoff appearance from 1997-2004, with Alfredsson always showing the way. In 2007, he scored the game winner in overtime against the Buffalo Sabres in the Eastern Conference final, sending the Senators into their first Stanley Cup final.
Since, the pickings have been slim: Two playoff misses and two first round exits. Now, here stands Alfredsson, ready to fire it up once more on what he calls the “big stage” of Madison Square Garden, perhaps for the last time.
While Alfredsson continues to say he will make a decision on retirement when the season is over, he couldn’t have scripted a better farewell campaign if it were to be his last, via this surprise playoff berth for a rebuilding team. On a personal level, Alfredsson has written one of the NHL’s best comebacks this season.
He didn’t just survive offseason back surgery, he has thrived, healthy enough to play 75 games, still a feared scorer, with 27 goals and 59 points. When the All-Star Game came to Ottawa in February, Alfredsson was rightly accorded the rock star treatment, by fans and his fellow stars.
It won’t be an easy season to top.
Last year at this time, the decision wasn’t about retirement but whether or not to have surgery on the lower back problem that cut short his 2010-11 season and was causing weakness in his right leg. He debated therapy options until finally consenting to surgery in early June.
He couldn’t have foreseen his own good health, nor his team’s inspiring push to the playoffs. At training camp, remember, Alfredsson was the one trying to keep expecations low for a team that lost the services of veterans like Mike Fisher and Chris Kelly.
“Like everybody else, I thought maybe we could be close,” Alfredsson said. “The way we played after the first six or seven games we really got going . . . built a lot of confidence in the team. It feels great to be back in the playoffs, really gratifying, I think, for everybody, but especially us older guys.”
That round one involves an Original Six team like the Rangers, and a classic venue, like MSG, derives the perfect scene for a little more Alfredsson playoff magic.
“It’s a building with a lot of energy,” Alfredsson said. “And it’s going to be even more so in the playoffs.
“The buzz in the city itself . . . you can go there at 11 in the morning and there’s still energy in the city, like nowhere else in the world, I think.”
As Alfredsson says, everybone that plays in historic MSG gets excited. The Senators especially love it, and why not — they’re 11-2-1 at Madison Square since the lockout.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun to get back into that atmosphere, go out and give it everything you have,” Alfredsson said.
Go out in style, for who knows what next year brings.
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