|Senators head coach Bryan Murray says home ice can make a difference in Game 7. Photo: A. Ringuette/Freestyle Photography/OSHC|
by Todd Anderson
The Ottawa Senators are about to secure their 10th consecutive trip to the Stanley Cup playoffs. With a win over the Tampa Bay Lightning tomorrow, coupled with a New York Islanders loss, the Senators will earn a spot in this year's post-season. Coincidentally, Senators tickets for Round 1 go on sale tomorrow at 10 a.m.
It will be difficult for the teams on the outside of the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference to catch Ottawa. With 96 points in 75 games, the Senators hold a 14-point lead over ninth-place Montreal Canadiens (82 points in 75 games), a 15-point lead over 10th place New York Islanders (81-73) and a 16-point lead over 11th place Toronto Maple Leafs (80-73).
Senators head coach Bryan Murray feels his team already wrapped up a spot in the playoffs when it reached the 94-point mark. Now the focus is on securing home-ice advantage.
"I wasn't worried about where we finished. I just wanted to make sure we were in the playoffs," Murray says. "I hope we're there now. Now the focus can be: Are we going to be fourth, or fifth in the standings? As I've said, though, let's just get into the playoffs and worry about who we play after that. Early in a series I don't know that (home-ice advantage) matters a great deal but if there's a Game 7 in a series you would like to have it in your own building. So I guess with that said, it is important."
Murray spoke about what the emphasis will be during the final seven regular-season games.
"I think we should always be in the habit of trying to win games. We'll do that and we'll talk about each game, and, hopefully, prepare real well for each game. For me in practice, there will be some areas we'll have to talk about. Our special teams are always a priority going into the playoffs. The other part is trying to see a fit for a couple of guys. Do they add something to a line, or do I have to juggle a little bit more?"
Ironically, the Senators clinched a spot in last season's playoffs exactly a year to the day tomorrow on March 24, 2006, when Daniel Alfredsson, Antoine Vermette and Patrick Eaves scored to lead Ottawa in a 3-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres.
The Detroit Red Wings will be making their 16th consecutive playoff appearance this year, the longest streak in the NHL. Barring a late-season surge by the Colorado Avalanche, who are seeking their 12th consecutive post-season trip, the Senators and New Jersey Devils will tie for the second-longest streak in the NHL at 10. The Montreal Canadiens hold the all-time record by competing in 24 straight playoffs from 1971 to 1994.