The years can be fleeting for a player in the NHL, a fact that Dion Phaneuf understands better than most.
Phaneuf, the stoic, lantern-jawed veteran Ottawa Senators’ defenceman, is in his 14th season in the league and it is almost hard to fathom he has yet to achieve success in the playoffs.
There were the four successive first-round setbacks that Phaneuf endured as a member of the Calgary Flames back in the 2000s.
Then there was the epic opening-round meltdown of 2013 with the Toronto Maple Leafs back in 2013 when Phaneuf was the captain.
Toronto was leading 4-1 midway through the third period before the weight of Leafs nation came crashing down upon the hockey team, ultimately losing 5-4 in overtime to the Boston Bruins in the deciding game.
It was a devastating loss that Phaneuf, now 32, admits took some time to get over – and he doesn’t really like to dwell on it any more.
“It’s a long time ago,” Phaneuf said. “This is a new series, a new team. I’m on a new team, so I think that’s in the past.”
Phaneuf is now a member in good standing along the defence with the Senators who is hopeful his postseason pratfalls are about to draw to an end.
Ottawa began what they hope will be a long and enjoyable NHL playoff odyssey here on Wednesday night when they contested the opening game of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarter-final series against these same Bruins.
But the Senators will have to do it the hard way.
After dominating most of the way, it was the Bruins who rallied in the third period, scoring two goals to take a 2-1 victory and draw first blood.
Ottawa took the play to Boston over the first two periods but only the stellar goaltending of Tuukka Rask kept it close.
Ottawa’s Bobby Ryan scored a goal midway through the second period after cutting in from the left side and whacking home the puck on Rask’s doorstep and the Senators would carry the 1-0 lead into the final frame.
Boston finally started to skate in the third period and it paid off when Frank Vatrano fired one past Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson at the 4:55 mark that knotted the game at 1-1.
Then Brad Marchand slapped home the winner with just 2:33 left.
Game 2 of the series will be played in Ottawa on Saturday.
Boston coach Bruce Cassidy was asked what he said to his team during the second period intermission that made such a difference in the Bruins play in the third.
“I mean we were calm in there,” Cassidy said. “But the message was more about, this isn’t just game 83. This is game one of the Stanley Cup Finals and the urgency level goes up, physicality goes up, doing the little things, wining pucks.
“And we just had to get back to our standard that we played to I thought over the past two months.”
As he moves along in his career, Phaneuf said he knows he must make the most of these opportunities to play in the postseason because you never know when it all might be over.
“As you get older you appreciate it that much more,” Phaneuf said before Wednesday night’s game. “It’s an honour to be playing in the playoffs and it’s something you don’t take for granted, that’s for sure.
“But you work hard all year to put yourself in this position and it feels good to be here. Now the fun starts.”
Phaneuf said the fact that the Senators took all four games off the Bruins during the regular season means little now that the playoffs have arrived.
“The regular season’s over,” Phaneuf stressed. “That’s what is so great about the playoffs and that’s why the compete level is so high – it’s zeros across the board in every statistic, whether it’s your special teams, your five-on-five. It’s a fresh start for everyone.”
The locals were excited for the start of the postseason as people were outfitted in Senators garb everywhere while the talk radio airwaves was dominated by wall-to-wall discussion about the Senators’ chances.
As the Senators and then the Bruins took turns at pregame skates at Canadian Tire Centre earlier on Wednesday, arena employees went about the thankless job in the stands of draping white rally towels over every one of the approximately 20,000 seats.
Inside the Senators dressing room, the club had roped off the team’s logo that adorns the middle of the room to prevent the icon from being sullied by anybody’s feet.
It all helped to put the Senators in the right frame of mind as they came out flying, out-hustling and out-skating the slower Bruins at every turn.
The Bruins could not even muster a single shot in a second period and it was only the great play of Rask that kept the game close with Ryan’s the only puck to elude him through two periods.Report Typo/Error
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