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Senators go for season sweep of Islanders

by John Kreiser

SENATORS (43-30-5) at ISLANDERS (32-35-10)

Last 10 -- Ottawa 6-4-0; New York 6-3-1

Season series -- It's the fourth and final meeting of the season between the teams, with the Islanders still looking for a victory. The Isles got points in both games at Ottawa -- a 3-2 overtime loss on Oct. 8 and a 3-2 shootout loss on New Year's Eve, then blew a 3-1 third-period lead in a 4-3 home loss on Feb. 14.

Big story -- The Senators assured themselves of a return to the playoffs on Thursday by beating Carolina 4-3 in a shootout after scoring the game-tying goal with 7.7 seconds left in regulation. Ottawa still has a slight chance to catch Buffalo for the Northeast Division title or beat out the Atlantic Division runner-up for fourth place and home ice in the first round -- but realistically, the Senators are headed for a fifth-place finish and a first-round meeting with either Pittsburgh or New Jersey.

Team Scope:

Senators -- The victory over the Hurricanes was the Senators' sixth in a row. After missing the playoffs last spring, they've ridden a hot second half to their 12th postseason berth in 13 years.

"We worked hard throughout the whole year and it's obviously nice," captain Daniel Alfredsson said after his team improved to 21-9-1 in its last 31 games. "We've got a good feeling and we're looking forward to the next week and then the playoffs."

Islanders -- The Isles ended their 15-game losing streak to Philadelphia with a solid 6-4 victory over the Flyers on Thursday night, and though they'll miss the playoffs for the third consecutive season, there are definite signs of improvement on the Island. They've already accumulated 13 points more than they managed all last season and have a young nucleus to build around.

They've also gotten improved goaltending from Martin Biron, who went six weeks without a start from late December to early February but has improved markedly after settling into a rotation with season-long starter Dwayne Roloson.

"The way the season was going for me, especially until the new year, I wasn't the way I wanted to be," Biron said. "I wasn't really able to give the team any wins, but now it's turning around a little bit and I'm feeling better in net."

Who's hot -- Ottawa center Jason Spezza set up three goals against Carolina and has 6 goals and 10 assists for 16 points in his last eight games. …Islanders forward Blake Comeau has a career-high 16 goals after scoring twice in each of New York's last two games.

Injury report -- Ottawa is without goal-scoring co-leader Milan Michalek (leg) and top-scoring defenseman Filip Kuba (lower body); both have missed two weeks and are still day-to-day. … The Isles are still without injured defensemen Bruno Gervais (groin) and Dustin Kohn (concussion).

Stat pack -- Spezza has 7 goals and 12 assists for 19 points in his last 15 games against the Islanders. Alfredsson has 8 goals and 25 points in his 24 career games at the Nassau Coliseum. … No. 1 draft pick John Tavares had two assists in the win over the Flyers, but has gone 16 games without a goal at home and has scored just six times at the Coliseum this season -- he has 15 goals on the road.

Puck drop -- The Islanders have won seven of their last 11 at the Coliseum, where they are a more-than-respectable 21-14-3. But the Senators have always fared well on Long Island, where they are 19-7-6-1 since entering the NHL in 1992. With only limited opportunities for advancement, however, it will be interesting to see how well Ottawa plays as it starts a three-game trip less than 48 hours after celebrating a return to the playoffs.

Said Alfredsson: "Our focus is still on playing the right way."

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