As the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs march on, it’s hard to believe it’s already been 15 years since the Ottawa Senators pulled off the finest playoff run in their modern-day history. In May of 2007, they went 15-3 to win the Eastern Conference title, and then played in their first and only Stanley Cup Final. They bowed out in five games to the Anaheim Ducks, but the excitement of that long playoff run will never be forgotten.
To mark the occasion, FACES caught up with three key performers in that Ottawa playoff run. Our three-star selection is Chris Phillips, Wade Redden and Chris Neil. We asked them to share their memories from that epic spring of 2007.
FACES: Going into those playoffs, you guys were the #4 seed in the East. Yet you took down #5 Pittsburgh, #2 New Jersey and #1 Buffalo, all in five games. Any explanation for why you guys were not just winning, but beating down some really good teams?
Wade Redden: Obviously, that top line of ours (Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson) was such a key factor. Alfie was just on fire. He led the way from day one of those playoffs. Anton Volchenkov and Chris Phillips, they were just ultimate shutdown guys that whole time. Ray Emery was so good in net. There was just a lot of belief that year. We had guys who stepped and scored big goals. I mean, we had Oleg Saprykin score a big goal in Game 1 against Buffalo. Joe Corvo had a big overtime goal in Game 2. Fisher and Neil. Everyone played such a big role.
Chris Neil: Well, we gelled together as a team really well. One of the biggest things is we went through relatively unscathed with injuries and that’s a key to success. Obviously, we had the depth there if we needed to rely on it. Guys were banged up, of course, but they were able to play through and no games were really lost.
Chris Phillips: I think the biggest factor from what I remember was that we had some success during the regular season against all those teams. Having the confidence that we could beat them because we had already.
How would you describe the off-ice chemistry on that team?
Phillips: That was a huge factor in our success, it was a very fun group. Dinners out on the road we always 7-8 guys at least and the groups always changed so there weren’t any cliques. Bryan Murray was the coach and he made coming to the rink everyday fun. So we always enjoyed being there and putting in the work.
Neil: I’ve gotten along with almost every guy I’ve played with, minus one. I won’t get it into that right now (laughter). We were like a band of brothers. Yeah, there were some arguments here and there but at the end of the day, guys respected one another. We had some good leaders in there and everyone led in their own way.
Redden: We were lucky in Ottawa. I look back at those days and it was so much fun because guys were committed and played together. We had a tight bond of guys that cared for each other. I think that’s really what led to a lot of our successes. I’m proud of those teams and what we were able to do a lot of years. There were some disappointments too but we always tried to use those (as learning experiences) and try to get the ultimate goal.
What was it like being an Ottawa Senator during the atmosphere of that playoff run with the city being so excited, the crowds being so loud, the car flags everywhere, and partying it up in The Sens Mile downtown?
Neil: The 2007 run was the best run out of all of them, better than 2017, because everyone did get behind us. Everyone always asks what my favourite memory was and that’s easy. When Alfie scored that goal in Buffalo in overtime to send us to the finals, it wasn’t the goal. It’s when we got back to the airport and there were 15,000 people at the airport waiting for us. The pilot said, “Look out your windows, boys.” It was unreal. We’d drive through, high-fiving everyone. I’m telling you right now, there are shivers going up my back thinking about it.
Phillips: Incredible! I couldn’t imagine what it would have been like if we won the Cup. But it was just awesome to see the city get into the spirit. Everywhere you went there were flags in cars or houses, fans showing up at the Arena, even if they didn’t have tickets, just to take in the excitement and experience the party. It was so much fun to be a part of that and running into people today still talking about that run.
Redden: When I look at the excitement around the City…when we beat Buffalo it was an afternoon game so we’re pulling into the airport at around 6 or 7. And people are lined up, it’s a beautiful sunny day and there are hundreds and hundreds of people waiting at the airport. And just seeing the footage from down on Elgin. They had The Sens Mile. It was such a cool run and such a great time.
Obviously, everyone played great in that playoff run. But which teammates really stood out for you in that run? Was there maybe an unsung hero from that team?
Redden: Ray Emery was so good in net. I remember two or three weeks before the playoffs started, someone flipped him a puck in practice and he took a golf swing at it. His stick hit the ice and slammed over his thumb, so his ligaments were all messed up. He was just gritting his teeth. Every game he’d show up and just battle and play, even though he was in pain the whole time. He didn’t practice during that whole 2 months.
Neil: Your superstars tend to offset the other team’s superstars. It’s your depth. Your third and fourth-line guys chipping in here and there offensively and also be able to grind them down. We did that. Our third and fourth lines outscored the other team’s third and fourth lines in the first three series. You see how important that is in today’s playoffs as well.
Phillips: With any successful playoff run, you look to the goalie and say they stood on their head. Ray Emery did that for us for sure. The other thing that stood out? We were a very strong four-line team. Everyone had a role and every role was crucial to our success. Everyone took pride in their role, no matter how much ice time they got. It was just about what was good for the team.
You had nine days off between the conference final and the Stanley Cup final. Did that slow down your momentum or influence the final series in any way?
Phillips: I think it did take the momentum away from us a bit. We were able to get through the first 3 rounds in five games and would have liked to play quicker. In hindsight, it probably would have been a good idea to go to somewhere like Colorado to get away from the hype a bit and refocus. It was too easy to sit around and get caught up in the excitement of it all.
Redden: I guess you could say that. It’s six and one-half dozen of the other. Sometimes (the rest) is in an advantage. I think what happened against Anaheim, they had a veteran, shut down team. They played a 1-3-1 and we couldn’t get any speed or anything going through the neutral zone. So, we’d have to dump the puck in and there’s (Hall of Fame defencemen) Chris Pronger or Scott Niedermeyer waiting in the weeds back there to gather a puck and have all sorts of time to make plays. Then they just grinded us.
Neil: I definitely do think it did. One of the things we could have done better as an organization was getting out of Dodge and went and train somewhere else, just to keep our minds clear and free. You know, people planning the parade and the buzz around the city, it was cool to be a part of it and be here. But in hindsight, we should have just left town and went and did our own thing and still all be together. When you’ll rolling on all cylinders, you’re a well-oiled machine. Then all of a sudden you stop for nine days. And then you’re trying to start the engine back up and get going again? That makes it tough.
Big picture, when you look back at that 2007 NHL playoff run and that team, are there any other feelings or memories that stand out for you?
Redden: As far as the final goes, yes. And it’s a negative. It’s the game winning goal in Game 4. We were tied. And I think Chris Phillips was on the ice and there was a faceoff in our zone and I think his skate blade broke. So, he had to come off the ice. I had just gotten off the ice and no one’s prepared to go on. So, I grabbed my gloves and jump on, kind of scrambling, and then I made a poor read. And I think Teemu Selanne chipped it by me and they scored on a 2 on 1. But it was just like one moment. That’s part of the game. That’s just the way it goes. But that one really bugs me still for sure.
Phillips: Just the feeling of winning that game in Buffalo to win the conference and have a chance to play for the Cup was amazing. Flying home to fans that had greeted us at the airport and playing on the biggest stage in hockey was a feeling I will never forget.
Neil: The finals were an exciting time for me because Hailey, our first child, was born between games 2 and 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals. I scored a goal the next night right after she was born, so the only game we won I scored in. That was a pretty exciting moment for me. I got to say I scored that for Hailey Neil. When we landed from Anaheim and the whole team went to the rink to practice, I went to the hospital for the birth of our child. I was glad I was able to be there for it.
Finally, 15 years later, What do you think of today’s Ottawa Senators? Could they someday follow in the footsteps of your 2007 team and get to a Cup Final?
Neil: I definitely think the right pieces are in place. Do they need to add a couple more? Yeah, I think they do. But looking forward, it’s an exciting time – especially for the fans – to see the youth and the skill that we have up front. And you have an anchor on the D in Chabot. They have the right pieces in place. It’s just fine tuning it to get to the next level.
Redden: I do think they have made some strides, but there’s still a long way to go. They were 27 points from a playoff spot. I think a big key for any successful team/company is stability and consistency. With all the uncertainty with a new arena and future of the team, it’s hard to stay on the path of the long-term goal. They have good young guys, but need to keep adding and building in all areas. Being a contender is definitely possible.
Phillips: I really believe the current team is on a path for great success. They have built the team around a great core of young guys that are coming into their own. With the addition of a few pieces and the experience they are gaining I feel like we will see another big run within a few years. I am looking forward to being at The Sens Mile as a fan the next time around.