“The Belleville Senators went 11-25-4 in the final three months of the regular season.”

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Opportunity is knocking for the Belleville Senators.

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Now they have a chance to make the next step as the Calder Cup playoffs get underway.

The Ottawa Senators’ American Hockey League affiliate will have to battle the odds this spring, but at least it has a ticket to the dance as it prepares to open a best-of-three first-round series against the Rochester Americans that opens at Blue Cross Arena on Wednesday at 7 pm

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It’s the first time in franchise history Belleville has been to the post-season since the organization moved its farm team there to start the 2017-18 campaign, and the club is looking forward to the challenge.

“From a franchise perspective, it’s been a long time coming,” coach Troy Mann said Monday as the Senators prepared for Game 1. “We’ve had a few good teams along the way here and the pandemic prevented us from playing in the playoffs (the last two years).

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“It means a lot to us as a players and a coaching staff that we were able to get it done and to get it done the hard way, quite frankly. Our division from a points-perspective was the toughest in the league and we’ve pretty much been battling for a playoff position since Feb. 1.”

The Senators went 25-11-4 in the final three months and it took until the second-last game with a 4-3 win over the arch-rival Toronto Marlies to qualify. Just for good measure, the club closed out the year by knocking the Marlies out of the playoffs with a 5-2 win Saturday.

Once the playoffs get underway, the slate is wiped clean. The journey the Senators took to get here is behind them and it’s up to the young players to lift their game to the level needed to win in the spring.

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“It’s very special. That’s why we play hockey, to win, and the only way to make that happen is win in the playoffs and try to hoist the cup at the end of it,” said Belleville captain Logan Shaw. “We’ve been playing playoff hockey for the last two or three months with just how tight it was in our division.

“For us, it’s about making sure that everybody is pulling in the same direction. Our message to the players is: To pull rope the same way and if you have someone pulling the opposite way it’s not going to work.”

Getting off to a good start is paramount for the Senators or this could be over as quickly as it starts. This series will happen fast with Game 2 scheduled for Friday night at the CAA Arena at 7 pm and Sunday at 3 pm if Game 3 is necessary.

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All games can be heard on TSN 1200-AM.

“If you lose one game, you can get behind the 8-ball,” Shaw added. “But the playoffs is the best time of year and it’s all about going there Wednesday with the mindset of getting the job done. Then, Friday night it’s about getting that job done.

“It’s just about getting the win and it’s not about the points anymore. You just have to make sure you get the win, and if you lose the first game you have to make sure you get the win in the second. We have to make sure we’re prepared every night to be in the fight.”

The Amerks were the last team into the playoffs and Belleville’s final win over the Marlies allowed Rochester to punch its ticket. The AHL affiliate of the Buffalo Sabers, the Amerks lineup includes former Ottawa 67’s winger Jack Quinn.

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“It’s definitely ironic that we’re playing them after they kind of got us in there,” Quinn, an Ottawa native, said with a smile Monday.

A No. 8 overall pick of the Sabers in the 2020 NHL draft, Quinn finished the season with 26 goals and 61 points in 45 games with Rochester. The Amerks haven’t won a playoff game since 2014 and haven’t won a series since 2005, but the history means nothing.

“The playoffs is a great time, but the same time we want to show we can win these games and win these series,” Quinn said. “As a group, we’re focused on taking care of business. The last month, every game has felt really important, so we’ve had that pressure on us and we’re comfortable with it.

“It’s nice that we’re in, we know who we’re playing and we have a chance to compete.”

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The challenge is for the Senators’ young players to take their game to the next level.

This will be a good chance for the likes of Mark Kastelic, Egor Sokolov, Parker Kelly, Viktor Lodin, Lassi Thomson, Jacob Bernard-Docker, Cole Reinhart, Roby Jarventie and goaltender Filip Gustavsson to take their game to another level.

Gustavsson will make the start in Game 1.

“It’s one game and our approach has to be very positive in terms of starting on the road,” Mann said. “We had 21 wins on the road (this season) and I don’t have the stats in front of me, but I think we were one of the top teams in the league.

“It’s extremely positive for us, but it’s one game, and both teams will be ready.”

[email protected]

Twitter: @sungarrioch

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