GARDEN CITY, N.Y. — If the Senators prove nothing else this season, they can at least say missing the playoffs in 2009 was a blip.
After booking a trip to the post-season with Thursday’s 4-3 shootout victory over the Hurricanes, the Senators were basking in the glow of the accomplishment on Friday.
“It feels great. We had a good streak going up until last year and it was tough not having a crack at it,” defenceman Chris Phillips said of the Senators missing the playoffs last season for the first time since 1997. “It’s very nice to be back in.”
Senators GM Bryan Murray isn’t surprised the club has bounced back.
“I always felt that we had this calibre of team. I thought last year we had that calibre of team and it didn’t happen, but I think it shows the attitude of the players, the work ethic that went on this year and it’s real compliment to playing hard mostly every night,” said Murray.
Returning to the post-season hasn’t been a smooth ride.
The Senators have struggled mightily with bouts of inconsistency — including a six-game losing streak in January and five-game losing skid coming out of the Olympics. Both times, however, they have come back with long winning streaks.
In January, they had an 11-game run that launched them into playoff contention. And as they prepare to face the Islanders Saturday, the Senators are one of the hottest teams in the NHL, riding a six-game winning streak.
When the Senators have been playing well this season, they have been resilient — like they were in bouncing back from a 3-2 deficit against Carolina Thursday.
“We have a lot of character, I’ve said that from Day 1. We find ways to win and I thought we did that (against Carolina),” said coach Cory Clouston. “We’ve found ways to win games and that’s important because in the playoffs they’re not always going to be picture perfect.
“In the playoffs, sometimes they’re going to be ugly. That’s a nice thing. We don’t just win one specific way. We’ve been able to win close-scoring games, tight-checking games, we’ve been able to win if it’s a little bit more wide open and we’ve been able to come from behind. We’ve found different ways to win throughout the season.”
In his first full year behind the Ottawa bench, Clouston, who took over from Craig Hartsburg in February 2009, refused to take any credit for the Senators’ return to the playoffs.
“Personally, yeah, it’s nice, but I’m more happy for the players. They are the ones who work hard and it’s nice to see them get rewarded. It’s nice to see them get back on track,” said Clouston.
Murray said he likes the job Clouston has done.
There were a lot of questions about what direction the Senators might take after dealing Dany Heatley to the Sharks in September.
Those have all been answered.
“The pain went away for me when we traded (Heatley),” said Murray. “We had to clean up our room a little bit. We were able to do that. We’ve got good chemistry in that room now.”