OTTAWA—Dion Phaneuf has a pretty simple reaction to what it’s like to be down a game in a first-round playoff series.
That’s a lesson Phaneuf, now 32 and in his 12th NHL season, learned back when he was a teenager and playing for the Red Deer Rebels, under coach Brent Sutter, on a team that twice lost in the WHL finals.
“You learn from what you did well, and what you didn’t do so well,” says Phaneuf. “We’ll learn from the mistakes that we made.”
Ahead of Saturday afternoon’s Game 2, after two off-days (the extra one is because of a Dixie Chicks concert at Canadian Tire Centre on Friday) the Senators find themselves needing a win at home to avoid heading to Boston in a two-game hole.
For Phaneuf, this is a sixth run at the Stanley Cup, and with his third Canadian team. He’s been in the hunt plenty of times, yes, but he’s never come all that close to the prize—he’s never made it past the first round.
Phaneuf says his first post-season appearance with Ottawa has a different feeling, and you might’ve noticed it on the ice in Game 1, if you saw the usually stone-faced blue-liner leaning on his stick and waiting for the puck drop while singing “say it ain’t so, I will not go” along with Blink-182.
“As you get older, you appreciate it that much more,” he says. “It’s an honour to be playing in the playoffs and it’s something that you don’t take for granted, that’s for sure.
“Definitely, as you get older, your chances, there’s not as many years left, so it’s about making the most of it and doing everything you can for your team.”
His experience helps in the room, to be sure. And teammates say their six-foot-two, 220-pound alternate captain likes to keep things light, even if at times it appears he’s all business.
“He’s funny,” says winger Clarke MacArthur, who returned to the lineup recently after missing nearly two full seasons with concussion symptoms. “He always comes off as Mr. Serious, but he does a lot of joking in the room. Everyone knows him for who he is in the room. It’s a lighter side.
“He’s not quite that crazy lookin’ all the time.”
Centreman Kyle Turris seconds that: “He’s more funny than people give him credit for.”
Turris has advanced past the first round, with the Senators, in 2013. MacArthur, now on his third shot, is, like Phaneuf, looking to make it out of Round 1 for the first time. Not that they discuss that, of course.
“No one really likes to talk about that,” MacArthur says. “We’re all lookin’ to kind of make our mark. Obviously we have a few guys who’ve got Cups and gone far here, but the majority are looking to do this for ourselves and see if we can go on a run.”
Phaneuf has had his chances. Calgary’s ninth overall pick in 2003, he made it to the playoffs each of his first four seasons with the Flames, and twice made it to Game 7. His last taste of the post-season came in 2013 with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and ended with a collapse.
“It took a little while to get over that one,” Phaneuf says. “But with saying that, great opportunity, fresh start here with this team.”
What goalie Craig Anderson sees from Phaneuf is not only toughness in front of the net, which he quite appreciates, but a consistency in character.
“The great thing about Dion is that play good, play bad, it doesn’t change his behaviour or his attitude. That’s very good for young guys to see,” Anderson says. “There’s gonna be ups and downs throughout games, throughout the season, and even right now, in the playoffs, the emotions get high and low, and he’s just steady Eddie back there.
“Nothing seems to phase him. that’s a really good quality that he brings around the room for us.”
Down a game, Phaneuf has been here before, and he’s far from panicking about the slight hole the Senators find themselves in, or how important Saturday’s Game 2 is.
“There’s not a lot of time to sit and dwell on things,” Phaneuf says. “We’ve gotta tighten up our game for the final 20 minutes and make sure that — it might sound cliché – but we have to play for 60 [minutes]. We just did some uncharacteristic things that when we have success we don’t do.”
He then runs through a list of things the Senators have to do, including pushing forward offensively, and limiting turnovers that cost them the game on Wednesday. “We will do that,” he says, simply.
“It’s very important to come back to the rink every day with a fresh attitude and a new opportunity of the next game.
“We obviously are where we’re at, down one, and we’ve gotta learn from [Game 1]. But it’s a new day and that’s what the playoffs are about—it’s about moving forward.”
For the veteran on Ottawa’s point, the hope is it’s also about moving forward to Round 2, for the first time.