There are eight teams in the East who are nine points apart and vying for the last three playoffs spots. That is a traffic jam the Sens were happy to avoid.
A rested bunch
In some ways the Olympic break came at the worst possible time for the Senators, as they finally seemed to be able to put all the pieces of their game together and were playing their best hockey of the season. With only five players playing the in the Olympic Games (Alfredsson, Ruutu, Kuba, Michalek, Volchenkov) fatigue shouldn't be a factor for their key players, as the majority of the team got a welcomed rest and a chance to get healthy. The question is: can Ottawa collectively get its game back to the level of play where it climbed to before the stoppage?
If you look at the remaining schedule, with 12 of their remaining 19 games against non-playoff teams, the Sens have been given a glorious opportunity to end the season strong. They have a chance to not only secure just a playoff spot, but home ice advantage for the playoffs as well. For a franchise that has seen attendance slip and interest wane earlier in the season, Ottawa's resurgence down the stretch couldn't have come at a better time.
When they started their recent 11-game winning streak back on Jan 14, it was a 2-0 shutout of the New York Rangers that served as the catalyst. On Tuesday it's the Rangers (4 wins - 6 losses in last 10 games played) who once again await the hungry Sens. With a win, Ottawa will have won 15 of their last 17 games, and with Carolina, Toronto and Edmonton on deck, the schedule maker has handed them a huge opportunity to run that total to 18 of 20. That's an amazing 144-point pace over an 82-game season. With the 30th, 29th and 28th place teams on the horizon, the time is now for the Senators to prove they are for real and distance themselves from the pack of teams scratching and clawing for the final spots.
No letting up
Coaches rarely look ahead too far at the schedule as they are constantly focused on the here and now. But with this chance to put critical points up on the board I guarantee Cory Clouston will be driving home the point that this stretch of games has to be prepared for like playoff games. Three straight games against teams you should beat can be the kiss of death for teams on a roll, but there is far too much at stake for the Senators and their franchise to let this opportunity slip away.
If Clouston can find the right buttons to push and the players respond and recapture the magic this team had prior to the break, a 4-0 week to start the final stretch could almost guarantee the Senators a playoff spot.
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