OTTAWA - The Ottawa Senators' hopes of defeating the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the NHL playoffs rest largely on the play of Craig Anderson.
The Senators goaltender was instrumental in getting Ottawa to the post-season. The Sens ranked 27th in the 30-team league in offence, but were second only to Chicago in allowing just 2.08 goals per game.
However, Anderson has yet to win a playoff round in his career. He was impressive in last year's quarter-final series against the New York Rangers, which the Senators lost in Game 7, but he realizes that until he wins a playoff series many will question his ability to win when it counts.
"There's only one team that can move on in each round and so much is determined by how the team plays," Anderson said. "We're at the mercy of our teammates and the better our teammates play the better chances for a goalie to have success and to move on."
Anderson has a 5-8 career playoff record with two shutouts. Montreal's Carey Price has played in twice as many playoff games as Anderson, but Ottawa's 31-year-old goalie feels he learns from every series.
"You need to come out of the game hard and put out a strong effort and try to carry momentum for as long as you can because the momentum swings are huge," he said. "When you have momentum you have to maximize those opportunities."
Reputations may be earned in the playoffs, but Anderson's performance this season can't be overlooked. If not for a sprained ankle that kept him out of 19 games Anderson would likely in contention for the Vezina Trophy after posting a 12-9-2 regular season record with an impressive 1.69 goals-against-average and .941 save percentage, both league bests.
"I don't really think about the personal accolades too much," Anderson said. "For the most part this is a team game and without the 20 guys in the dressing room doing their work and doing what they do I wouldn't be able to have the statistics that I do."
Throughout their 20-year history the Senators have advanced to the playoffs 14 times, but rarely have they had a goaltender with Anderson's combination of ability confidence and success.
Daniel Alfredsson has seen every one of the Senators goalies in action in the playoffs and said Anderson is "one of the best for sure."
Alfredsson doesn't believe the series will come down to a showdown between Anderson and Price, but does admit solid goaltending can give a team an advantage.
"I feel when (Anderson's) on he seems to be one step ahead all of the time, knowing what's going to happen before it even happens," he said. "When you see that as a player it gives you a lot of confidence."
Anderson's play has instilled confidence and trust from his teammates all season long and they expect much will be the same once the playoffs start.
"He’s very composed, he's always quiet in the room and that almost has a calming effect on the rest of the guys," said defenceman Marc Methot. "Seeing the head of the snake, which is Andy on our team, guys follow that and it rubs off really well on the other players."
With an averaging 2.33 goals per game, the Senators are the lowest scoring team in the playoffs. With goals likely to be at a premium during the post-season, Methot says the team feels good about its chances with Anderson in goal.
"I love the idea of having a goaltender like Andy back there," Methot said. "You know he's going to perform every night, he’s always focused and his preparation is some of the best I’ve ever seen in a goaltender. You know what you're getting with him going in every game."
Notes: Neither Chris Phillips nor Milan Michalek took part in practice Tuesday, but both are expected to practise Wednesday in Montreal. ... Rather than practise at home Wednesday the Senators have chosen to head to Montreal as MacLean said the team is anxious to get immersed in the excitement of the playoffs. The Senators were travelling to Montreal by train.