If Rhodes is so painfully forthright, how could so many people have doubted him last spring? He hurt his left ankle against the Colorado Avalanche in February 1997, a seemingly minor injury that wouldn't heal. When asked last Friday about Rhodes's unavailability for last spring's playoffs, in which Ottawa lost to the Buffalo Sabres in the opening round amid whispers that Rhodes was more fragile psychologically than physically, Senators players responded with an inordinate amount of throat clearing, a slew of dangling phrases and reworded answers. But Rhodes didn't imagine the pain in his ankle. An operation last summer revealed a bone spur and scar tissue. "You can't say it's vindication that I had surgery," says Rhodes, a Minnesotan, in his slow Fargo voice. The truth is its own reward-though a second-round series against the Washington Capitals isn't bad, either.
The NHL's most nondescript team finally has a splash of color, even if it's hidden beneath a goalie's mask most of the time. Business at the Amalfi Spa already was brisk—Ottawa's star right wing Daniel Alfredsson temporarily went from blond to brown because of a dye job there earlier this season—and Rhodes's new and improved look, and play, could spark a run on Wella Blondor and the Stanley Cup, respectively. Certainly Rhodes got New Jersey's attention. During warmups before Game 3, the 34-year-old Gilmour engaged Rhodes, a former Toronto teammate, in a brief tonsorial chat, vowing that he, too, would have his hair dyed this summer. Rhodes responded, "You're going to do that to your hairpiece?"
"After we clinched a spot in the playoffs, I was looking through my wife's E-mail," Rhodes said in the dressing room after Game 6. "She E-mailed a friend that we were playing New Jersey, so we'd probably be home soon because we weren't expected to win. The next day I confronted her, told her I was pretty relaxed right now, playing well, so you never know what might happen."
Rhodes never looks at the game clock—another of his quirks—and he didn't know the series was over until the green light flashed behind the Devils' net. The Senators took it as a green light to party. They and their supporters celebrated long and hard on Saturday night in their usually staid government town, fans honking their car horns probably as much in disbelief as in celebration. Ottawa was going to wake up with a terrific hangover, for which the remedy was right at hand, the hair of the underdog.