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Ottawa Senators’ 20-year-old forward Curtis Lazar is enjoying every minute of the ride on a surging team that has captured the attention of the hockey universe.
He doesn’t want the ride to come to a sudden stop. With two games remaining, the 41-26-13 Sens are hoping to gain a playoff check mark. Ottawa is currently two points behind the Detroit Red Wings for third-place in the Atlantic Division. The 95-point Sens are pushing the 96-point Pittsburgh Penguins and the 95-point Boston Bruins in the hunt for two Wild Card places.
“It’s awesome,” Lazar said in an exclusive interview with XN Sports following Thursday’s morning skate at Madison Square Garden. “The season has gone up and down – and up and down. Now, we’re playing some meaningful hockey here. That’s where you want to be. A couple more games and we’ll see what’s gonna happen.”
During the 2012-13 season, the Senators were tagged as ‘The Pesky Sens’ for their ability to defy the odds. Lazar wasn’t around back then, but former 17th overall pick revealed that this year’s team is out to bury the moniker.
“Everyone says Pesky Sens, we’re trying to bury the Pesky Sens,” Lazar said. “We’re trying to bury that and say we’re the Ottawa Senators here. We’re not gonna be a pushover. We go out there and work hard. We’ll see how the cards play out.
“I wasn’t really a part of the Pesky Sens. The guys that were, they’re trying to bury the hatchet and move on from it. Pesky is like you’re always fighting for it. Last game, we were down 3-0 and found a way to win. That was desperation hockey. We didn’t have a choice. We had to win that game. Same thing with the next two. They’re four valuable points. We can get two points closer to our goal tonight.”
Two crucial games remain. First, a meeting with resurgent goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and the Presidents’ Trophy-winning New York Rangers at MSG on Thursday, followed by Saturday’s regular season finale at Wells Fargo Center against the bruising Philadelphia Flyers.
Lazar believes the Senators are bound to do big things for years to come. He’s confident in a talented core that has grown and matured together. Captain Erik Karlsson is a Norris Trophy favorite. Rookie winger Mark Stone has propelled himself into the Calder Trophy race. The 22-year-old has collected 61 points (24 goals, 37 assists) through 78 games.
Stone has caught fire over the past four games, recording five goals and two assists. He carries a seven-game point-streak into Thursday’s meeting with the Rangers. Karlsson, Stone, Kyle Turris, Bobby Ryan, Marc Methot and Mika Zibanejad make up just a segment of the Sens’ impressive core.
“The group here and how we all grow together, that’s probably the most valuable thing moving forward,” Lazar said. “We have the core group of guys in place. We know what we’re capable of doing. Having the Hamburglar helps too.”
Much of the talk about the Sens has centered around goaltender Andrew Hammond‘s incredible rise to prominence. Hammond has garnered the nickname ‘The Hamburglar’ for his ability to steal victories through unflappable performances between the pipes. Through 22 games, Hammond is 18-1-2 with a 1.91 goals-against average, a .937 save percentage, and has recorded two shutouts.
“He doesn’t change,” Lazar said. “That’s good ol’ Andrew Hammond. He goes about his business. He’s playing some great hockey for us. Whenever he’s in net, we know he’s going to be battling and competing. It’s cool to see the media attention he’s getting. He’s handled it really well.”
Lazar added to the Hammond’s cult status within the Canadian capital by taking a couple bites out of a hamburger thrown on the ice following the Sens’ 6-4 home victory over the Boston Bruins on Mar. 19. As flying hamburgers rained down on the Canadian Tire Centre ice, Lazar picked up a burger and engaged in a celebratory snack.
“The next couple days I felt a little iffy,” Lazar joked. “My youthful immune system came out on top. Nah, I was a fine.”
This is a team that knows how to have fun.
“The one thing with us, is that we’re always joking around,” Lazar said. “I don’t know if that comes from having a lot of young guys on the team. You could see us this morning. We were quite loose. I don’t know whether that’s a good thing, or a bad thing yet.”
But they’re also staying grounded thanks to veterans like Chris Phillips, David Legwand and Chris Neil. The 37-year-old Phillips has spent much of the season on the injured reserve, but he also serves as a mentor and Lazar’s veteran roommate. The experience has made Lazar thankful for his youth.
“He’s had a tough year injury-wise,” Lazar said. “I see what he’s going through and how much it hurts. It makes me appreciate being young and being able to be part of the game. He’s that guy I can lean on. I can pick his brain about absolutely anything in the league. He’s played a lot of hockey and is also an icon in Ottawa. I’ve also gotten to know Daniel Alfredsson. He pokes his head in the dressing room. Seeing the impact they have in the community is pretty cool. I hope to one day follow in their footsteps.”
It’s been an unbelievable ride. Most of all, Lazar has enjoyed the special bond that he and his teammates share.
“We have a good mix in the dressing room with our veteran guys,” Lazar said. “Chris, David Legwand, the veteran guys, the list goes on. These guys teach us how to do things. We’re a team that enjoys playing for each other. The bond we have in the dressing room, that’s the best part.”