April 10, 2012
Sens owner says first round 'ours to win'Getting best bang for his buck in East, Melnyk likes Rangers match-up
By Bruce Garrioch, QMI AGENCY
Eugene Melnyk couldn't hide his excitement Tuesday.
Not only did the Senators owner find out he's getting the "Best Bang for his Buck" in the Eastern Conference in a BMO survey, he's thrilled the players are getting ready for a first-round series with the New York Rangers.
Just over two weeks after an ugly 5-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens left Ottawa fighting for a playoff spot, Melnyk walked into Scotiabank Place for his charity skate on a Saturday morning with a hat which read "Relax" before a key game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
"First, we demolished Pittsburgh (8-4) and then they went on to win their four they needed to get into the playoffs," said Melnyk from his Barbados home.
"The best thing that happened was seeing these guys getting nervous when I did wear the relax hat. How do you teach these guys pressure unless you throw them into a pressure cooker? Here they were ready for the playoffs, we would have been the biggest laughing stock of the league had we blown it. Everybody just took a deep breath and they thrashed Pittsburgh."
Melnyk has been bullish on his team all season, but he did have a tough time with the difficult start.
"When we came out 1-5, it was extremely painful," said Melnyk, who credits the work of GM Bryan Murray and the staff in the rebuild. "It's a gut-wrenching feeling to go out and watch you lose, and lose, and lose, every game. I don't know how they do this in other cities.
"In our case, it was a horrible feeling. All of a sudden, things just sort of clicked. You are thinking to yourself, 'Is this really what I bought into?' and you wish the season was over quickly.
"Then things just started kicking in, (coach) Paul (MacLean) put his lines together, realized what he had to work with first-hand and everybody just looked around and said, 'Hey we can do this pretty good.' I realized after the 10th game we had something very, very special going on and that the mix was there."
Melnyk said he's happy to see a first-round matchup against the Rangers, adding the Senators shouldn't be intimated by facing the No. 1 seed in the East.
"I like the fact we're playing the Rangers. I'm looking forward to it. I think it's going to be a great series," said Melnyk. "There's other teams I'd rather not be playing, but it should be an exciting series.
"Come playoff time anything can happen. You can have a top-seeded team knocked out in the first round. You can have the most likely to succeed go all the way and then falter at the end anyway.
"The one thing we do know is we can win this (series). It's ours to win, but we're going to be up against the runner-up to the Presidents' Trophy and that's nothing to sneeze at.
"They're an elite team. Anything we do, I'm going to be proud of our team for what they've done all season. The beauty is, it can only get better, with the plan that we have.
"This was not supposed to happen. The fact that it's happening has got everybody excited because we know we're going to be more mature next year. We're going to be bigger, stronger and have more experience."
The fact the Senators were selected by BMO Tuesday as the team getting the most for its money ($52-million payroll) is a feather in the club's cap.
"It's always nice when someone says something nice about you," said Melnyk. "It's pleasing to see because we're not spending anywhere near the cap and we did much better than we ever expected.
"You need to spend money wisely and let the hockey people do their thing. If we want to have a long-term, sustainable franchise in Ottawa, you do have restrictions and you've got to be smarter than the next guy. That's one thing I really like about working with Bryan. He gets it."
Erik Karlsson is a huge fan of fellow Swede Henrik Lundqvist.
But that doesn't mean the Senators defenceman is hopeful the Rangers goalie will win a Stanley Cup this spring. Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Karlsson joked that he'd like to give Lundqvist a long summer.
"It's always fun to play against someone you know," said Karlsson. "It's going to fun facing him. He could win the Vezina Trophy this year and he's had a really good season. I think everybody is really happy for him, but hopefully it's time for him to go home."
Marian Gaborik (flu) and Ryan Callahan (personal reasons) were both back on the ice with the Rangers Tuesday at the club's practice facility.