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Sens, Jets set for huge showdown

by Tal Pinchevsky
SENATORS (38-28-10) at JETS (35-32-8)


Last 10: Ottawa 4-4-2; Winnipeg 5-5-0

Season Series: This is the fourth and final matchup this season between these two Canadian franchises. Ottawa has taken two of the previous three, but lost the most recent meeting, a 2-0 game in Ottawa on Jan. 16 in which Chris Mason made 25 stops for the shutout.

Big Story: While Ottawa is still hanging on to a playoff spot in the East, Winnipeg has dropped three of their last four, all but eliminating them from postseason contention. Ottawa seemed assured of a playoff berth not that long ago, but losses in five of its last seven games have made a postseason appearance far less of a certainty. A strong 4-2-0 run to open March put Winnipeg within reach of a playoff spot. But itsr recent 1-3-0 run has put those playoff hopes in peril. If the Jets still want to qualify for the playoffs, they'll have to do it at the expense of the Sens.

Team Scope:

Senators: A 7-1-1 record to close out February made Ottawa's appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs seem inevitable. But a 4-5-2 run since then has made the playoffs, though still a strong possibility, far from a sure thing in Ottawa. A 1-2-0 homestand was followed up with a humbling 5-1 loss in Montreal Friday night, casting some doubts about whether or not Paul MacLean's squad was capable of closing out what has so far been a remarkable comeback season following Ottawa's dismal 32-40-10 record in 2010-11.

Hope was renewed, if temporarily, Saturday night against the Penguins, easily the League's hottest team. Hosting Pittsburgh, Milan Michalek opened the scoring with his team-leading 33rd goal of the season before consecutive goals from Matt Cooke gave the Penguins the lead. But the Sens would score seven more goals on just 19 shots, sustaining a 40-shot barrage from Pittsburgh to win 8-4. The eight goals on 28 shots came from a variety of sources, particularly Daniel Alfredsson, whose two goals and two assists gave the Ottawa captain his first four-point game in almost two years. Nick Foligno provided three assists, for his second three-point game this season.

Jets: The Jets appeared destined to finish out of the top eight in the Eastern Conference. But a 6-1-2 run that began last month inspired hope in hockey-mad Winnipeg, which hasn't seen an NHL playoff series win since 1987. That gleam of postseason hope was diminished by the Jets' recent 3-5-0 run, which has created a deficit in the Eastern Conference standings that may be insurmountable.

Looking for a big win in Nashville Saturday night, the Jets trailed 2-0 in the third period following second-period tallies from Matt Halischuk and Gabriel Bourque. Considering Winnipeg's 1-22-3 record coming into the game when trailing after 40 minutes, that score did not bode well for the Jets. But Tim Stapleton scored 12:53 into the final frame, providing a sliver of hope against a Nashville team that boasted a 26-2-3 record coming into the game when leading after two periods. In the end, Winnipeg could not complete the comeback and Shea Weber’s empty-netter sealed a 3-1 Predators' win. The loss left the Jets six points out of the eight spot with just seven games to play.

Who's Hot: For Ottawa, Milan Michalek has four points in his last two games while Jason Spezza has five points in his last five games. … The Jets' charge has been led by Stapleton, who has three goals and three assists on his current five-game point streak. Bryan Little also has three goals in his last three games while Spencer Machacek has six points in four games since being called up from St. John's on March 18.

Injury Report: Jesse Winchester (concussion) and Peter Regin (shoulder surgery) are on Ottawa's IR and Ben Bishop is questionable after leaving the game against Pittsburgh with a lower-body injury following a goal-mouth scramble. … Chris Thorburn (lower body) is on Winnipeg's IR while Eric Fehr (upper body) and Nik Antropov (lower body) are questionable.

Stat Pack: The eight goals Saturday night were a season high for the Sens, who had scored just six goals in their previous five games. Ottawa last scored eight goals in an 8-4 win in Tampa Bay on Jan. 24, 2008. Alfredsson also led the way that night, establishing a new team record and career high with seven points (three goals and four assists).

Puck Drop: If the Jets hope to fight their way into the playoffs, they'll need to improve their third-period scoring. Their 55 third-period goals rank 27th in the League, a statistic that hurts even more considering the Jets have allowed 81 goals in the third period this season, the fourth-highest total in the NHL. That minus-26 differential in third-period scoring ranks only ahead of Columbus.
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