They have met expectations for the regular season, but in the minds of the Ottawa Senators, there is no stopping now.
Do the Senators have what it takes to go all the way this spring?
"I think so, definitely," centre Jason Spezza said. "We feel like we can, and we feel like we should, and I think we probably will."
The Senators, picked by many before the 2005-06 season began to win the Stanley Cup this spring, entered last night's game with the Maple Leafs in a fight for the Eastern Conference title with the Carolina Hurricanes. Both teams had 111 points. With 51 wins going into last night, the Sens were both one win and two points shy of franchise records, set in 2002-03.
Along the way, Ottawa has had to deal with some adversity. No. 1 goalie Dominik Hasek, who is practising but has not been cleared to play, and top defencemen Wade Redden, Zdeno Chara and Chris Phillips all have missed chunks of time with injuries. But others filled in well, most notably freshman netminder Ray Emery, who was named NHL defensive player of the month and rookie of the month for March.
But the Sens are adamant they won't rest on what they have put into the books already.
"Our focus is to win the Stanley Cup and that is our only goal," said Dany Heatley, who has been excellent after a trade from the Atlanta Thrashers, with his first 100-point season in the NHL. "Everything we have done is nice, for sure, but we have not accomplished anything, yet. The playoffs are never an easy road."
Not that Heatley has experience in the post-season. He didn't get there in three seasons with Atlanta.
Speaking of the playoffs, the so-called mental block the Sens would have had if they had faced the Leafs apparently doesn't exist. In four of the past five springs, the Leafs have vanquished their provincial rivals, but the Senators say they are beyond that.
"We are a totally different team and we've done well against them all season," centre Mike Fisher said. "To be honest, we wouldn't mind playing them at all."