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Karlsson, Spezza among reasons Sens are in

Sunday, 04.01.2012 / 8:22 PM / Drive to the Playoffs

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

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Karlsson, Spezza among reasons Sens are in
NHL.com gives its six reasons why the Senators have clinched a berth in the 2011-12 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Back in October, few people expected the Ottawa Senators to be making anything more than vacation plans after the regular season ends on April 7 -- after all, the Senators were coming off a 13th-place finish and hadn't made any major upgrades.  Instead, Ottawa is headed back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs after missing the postseason in 2011. The Senators assured themselves of a playoff berth on Sunday by whipping the New York Islanders 5-1 for their fourth win in a row.

Here's a look at six reasons why the Senators are headed back to the postseason:

Erik Karlsson
Defense - OTT
GOALS: 19 | ASST: 58 | PTS: 77
SOG: 249 | +/-: 18
1. King Karl: In his third NHL season, Erik Karlsson has become the NHL's best offensive defenseman. With 77 points in 78 games, he's all but assured of becoming only the fourth defenseman in NHL history to win the scoring race among blueliners by more than 20 points -- the others are Bobby Orr, Paul Coffey and Denis Potvin. His 58 assists are third in the NHL, and he's among the top 10 in the scoring race. But not only has Karlsson taken a huge leap forward offensively from 13 goals and 45 points last season, he's improved his two-way play -- going from minus-30 in 2010-11 to plus-18 this season.

2. Big Mac: General manager Bryan Murray changed coaches last summer, giving longtime Detroit assistant Paul MacLean his first shot at a top job. The owner of one of the NHL's best mustaches showed he'd learned a lot in six seasons in Hockeytown under Mike Babcock, keeping the Senators on an even keel by knowing when to get tough or back off. MacLean, now 54 is one of the oldest first-time coaching hires in recent NHL history -- but he says the job came at the right time, and that he might not have been able to handle it as well earlier in his career.

3. O Captain, my Captain: At 39 and coming off a season shortened by injuries, there were a lot of questions as to how much captain Daniel Alfredsson had left in the tank. Alfredsson answered any doubters with a solid season in which he's stayed healthy enough to put up 27 goals (his highest total since 2007-08) and 58 points in 77 games. He's also served as a mentor for Karlsson, a fellow Swede, and helped the third-year defenseman blossom.

4. Spezza steps up: After putting up just 57 points in each of the last two seasons (and missing 20+ games in each with injuries), Jason Spezza is on the way to his best offensive season since 2007-08. The second player taken in the 2001 NHL Draft enters the final week of the season with 32 goals and 82 points and is a threat to score or set up a goal every time he's on the ice.

Craig Anderson
Goalie - OTT
RECORD: 33-20-6
GAA: 2.85 | SVP: 0.914
5. Handy Andy: It's been an up-and-down season for goaltender Craig Anderson, who was yanked several times early in the season and missed a month with a hand injury after slicing himself while preparing food. But on a team that allows a lot of opposition shots, Anderson has put up a solid .914 save percentage while going 33-20-6 -- and he's won eight of his last nine decisions, including the last four that clinched the playoff berth.

6. Mighty Milan: Milan Michalek was one of the players who came back from San Jose when the Senators traded two-time 50-goal scorer Dany Heatley to the Sharks in 2009. After two disappointing seasons that were plagued by injuries, Michalek has had a breakout season -- he leads the Senators with 35 goals, including one in Sunday's playoff clincher. Michalek's improvement is among the primary reasons that the Senators enter the final week of the season with 245 goals, fourth in the East and already 53 more than they had in 2010-11.
Quote of the Day

I didn't even know how to celebrate. I threw my hands up, they gave me a hug, so I guess that's all I needed.

— Sabres forward Tim Schaller on scoring his first NHL goal Sunday against the Bruins