They've endured a goalie controversy, a coaching change and two big injuries at season's end, but Hockey Night in Canada's Don Cherry isn't ready to write off a team as experienced as the Ottawa Senators.
The Senators will take on the No. 2 seed Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night (CBC, 7 p.m. ET) in a rematch of a series last year. Few hockey observers are giving Ottawa much chance of pulling the upset, especially after centres Mike Fisher and Daniel Alfredsson suffered serious injuries near the end of the regular season.
"[Goalie Martin] Gerber has never done well in the playoffs, their two leaders are out, they haven't been very good since December, and they've only won three of their last 10 games," says Cherry.
"But you know, it's a funny thing about hockey players. When something like that happens, they dig down … It's not going to be as easy [for Pittsburgh] as everybody thinks; everybody's been down on Ottawa for three or four months," said Cherry. "But sometimes a little magic happens."
Cherry made his comments on a media conference call involving hockey analysts across North America.
"One thing Ottawa's got going for them that nobody mentions: they’ve scored more goals than anyone, and the team that can score goals in the playoffs can be very, very dangerous. But I'm still picking Pittsburgh," said Cherry.
'He's the leader, the silent leader'
"I think the guy behind the whole thing is [Ryan] Malone," he added. "Good guy, he hits, fights, scores goals, I think he's the leader, the silent leader, as they say."
Cherry, the longtime coach of the Boston Bruins in the 1970s, said his former team is up against it in their series against Montreal.
The Bruins lost all eight times to the Canadiens this season, and history is not on Boston's side, with Montreal taking 23 of 28 playoff series against their Original Six rival, including the last two.
"If they grind it out, maybe [goalie Tim] Thomas can come through, but the way Montreal is on a roll, and if Boston gets a lot of penalties against [Montreal's] power play, they're dead," said Cherry.
Like most observers, Cherry marveled at the composure and ability of Carey Price, Montreal's rookie goalie.
"Montreal, you've got 4,000 papers after you, TV, radio and everything after you, and this 20-year-old kid just stepped up like a trooper," he said. "Nobody mentions him a lot for rookie of the year, I think he should be rookie of the year."
Cherry added that Montreal will need injured defenceman Mike Komisarek, however, as soon as possible to make a run in the Eastern Conference.
Calgary-San Jose series most grueling
The colourful commentator predicted that the series between the Calgary Flames and San Jose Sharks could be the most grueling.
"I love the way Calgary plays," said Cherry. "That'll be the war as far as I'm concerned. That's going to be a great, great series."
While there is plenty of buzz about scoring champion Alexander Ovechkin making his first ever playoff appearance for the Washington Capitals, Cherry chose to focus on coach Bruce Boudreau, who turned the team around after replacing Glen Hanlon in November.
Like Cherry, Boudreau spent most of his career in the minor leagues before reaching the NHL.
"They named him 'interim'," said a disbelieving Cherry. "He was there just until they found another coach and all of a sudden he pulled a little magic out and now he's staying.
"[But] make no thing about it, he was just cannon fodder until they found another guy."
As far as his choice for Stanley Cup champion, Cherry said he was sticking with the Sharks to finally break through and win it all.
"[Anaheim GM] Brian Burke's gonna punch me out when he sees me, I know, but I pick San Jose."