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Playoffs arriving early for Senators

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
The Senators will be without forward Milan Michalek for at least two weeks due to a knee injury suffered during last Thursday's 6-3 loss in Atlanta (Getty Images).

As far as the Ottawa Senators are concerned, the post-season has already arrived.

If that's indeed the case, the Senators are finding the urgency needed to survive — or even thrive — the grind of playoff hockey at just the right time. Case in point: Monday's ultra-crucial 2-0 blanking of the Canadiens and the Bell Centre in Montreal.

Not only did that result halt a five-game losing streak, it gave Ottawa sole command of fifth place in the Eastern Conference standings and a little bit of extra breathing room in their bid to lock down a playoff position. A 1-7-1 skid since the Olympic break had put that into more than just a wee bit of jeopardy, but winning, it seems, is the cure for all that ails any team.

"That’s the way this team needs to play going forward," defenceman Andy Sutton said earlier today after the Senators' pre-game skate in advance of tonight's matchup with the Philadelphia Flyers at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200). "It took a few games to get there, but it was a great result.

"Last night was the most important game of the year and now it’s tonight. This is where we’re at. The playoffs are just starting a little early for us."

Tonight's meeting with the Flyers — who share sixth place in the East with the Canadiens, a mere two points behind Ottawa — surely qualifies as another of those games with all the trappings of a post-season affair. And another victory would go a long way toward pushing the Senators closer to their goal of returning to the playoffs after a one-year absence.

"We all know what’s at stake," said Senators blueliner Chris Campoli. "They’re pretty much like playoff games now. They’re four-point games … so we’ve got to continue to find ways to win and put them together down the stretch drive of the season."

Added centre Jason Spezza: "We’re not completely oblivious to what’s going on with the standings. But it’s not the  No. 1 thing in our minds. We just want to be playing well and having good hockey games. But we do know (the Flyers) are right there with us and if we can win this game, it also gives us a bit more of a separation from the ninth spot."

"That’s the way this team needs to play going forward. It took a few games to get there, but it was a great result. Last night was the most important game of the year and now it’s tonight. This is where we’re at. The playoffs are just starting a little early for us." - Andy Sutton
While everyone was in a much more buoyant mood this morning in the wake of Monday's big victory, there was one sobering piece of news. Forward Milan Michalek, who injured his left knee in last Thursday's 6-3 loss in Atlanta, is lost to the team for at least two weeks and possibly longer. Head coach Cory Clouston isn't ruling out the prospect of Michalek being sidelined for the season.

"That's the worst-case scenario," said Clouston. "It's probably going to be a couple of weeks right now. There is some damage in the knee, but we don't know the extent of it. A couple of weeks of rehab and we hope he should be ready to play by then, but I guess there's a possibility that he won't be."

With 22 goals, Michalek shares the team lead in that category with Mike Fisher. His loss is undoubtedly a blow for the Senators' offence.

"He’s a heck of a player," Spezza said of his linemate. "He plays in all situations for us. Power play, penalty kill … he plays a lot of minutes. But it gives other guys a chance to step up.

"It’s unfortunate we’re going to be missing him but this season, it seems like there’s a lot of injuries around the league. I think we’ve played with a full roster maybe two games all year, so unfortunately, we’re used to it."

Around the boards

Fresh off the shutout victory in Montreal, Brian Elliott gets another start in goal tonight. He's been highly effective on the finishing end of back-to-back starts this season and blanking the Canadiens was surely another shot of added confidence. "When you get a win, it definitely boosts your spirits," said Elliott. "It makes you believe a lot more in yourself and your team" ... Veteran defenceman Filip Kuba is still sidelined with an upper-body ailment. He's missed nine of the last 10 games ... Fewer than 1,250 tickets remain for tonight's game.

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