TAMPA — For the third time in four seasons, it looks like the Senators will face the Penguins in the first round of the playoffs.
As the NHL heads into the final weekend of the regular season, it’s possible Ottawa could face the Devils in Round 1, but it appears more likely that the defending Cup champs from Pittsburgh will be the Senators’ first-round opponent.
A season after missing the playoffs, the Senators, who took out the Penguins in Round 1 in 2007 and were eliminated by Pittsburgh in the first round 2008, will be tasked with shutting down stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
“We’re excited to be back in (the playoffs) and playing some pretty good hockey,” said Ottawa centre Mike Fisher. “We’ve played (the Penguins) pretty good this season and we’d be excited about that if that’s the case. We know they present a big challenge.
“That’s what you want in the playoffs. That’s what we play for, to play in the playoffs, big games and against good teams. We’re both different teams (than the last time they played).
“We feel like we’re a much better team now. If we play the way we know we can play, we like our chances.”
The possibility of facing his old team doesn’t bother Jarkko Ruutu, noting that the Butler Bulldogs were an underdog going into the March Madness tournament and went to the final against Duke.
“I know a lot of guys there, but I think it’s a great chance for us to try to knock off the defending Stanley Cup champions,” said Ruutu, signed as a free agent from the Penguins in the summer of 2008. “They have a really good team, but we’ve done well against them.
“There is no magic there. They are an offensive team. They live through their stars. If you somehow shut them down, they’re going to get frustrated. It’s not fun to play when you have no room out there. If you are going to get hit every time you try to create scoring chances, it gets to you.
“This is a great chance for us to play as a team. If you look at how Butler did (in the NCAA) when they played as a team, it got them pretty far.”
Michalek to play
The Senators aren’t going to hold out W Milan Michalek any longer. He will return against the Bolts on Thursday after taking the warmup prior to Tuesday’s game against the Panthers, but opted to wait one more game before coming back from a knee injury. Michalek, who was hurt March 18 in Atlanta, is chomping at the bit. “He’s anxious. He’s skated a lot in the last little while and we’ve done the right thing holding him off for one extra game and giving him two more days,” said coach Cory Clouston. “Often, that first game back you play on adrenaline. The next game is a little bit of a letdown. We don’t foresee that happening. There’s going to be some rust, but those two games are a bonus for him to get the rust out.”
READY FOR CANADA
Tampa C Steve Stamkos, who has 47 goals, expects to suit up for Canada at next month’s world championship in Germany. Stamkos and Bolts W Steve Downie met with Canadian GM Mark Messier when he was in Tampa last weekend. The roster won’t be finalized until the first round of the playoffs are over. “I’d definitely go. Any time you get a chance to play for your country, it’s a really good opportunity,” said Stamkos Wednesday. “(Messier) spoke to us when the Rangers were here and he expressed some interest. It looks like it’s going to be some younger guys with the Olympics this year.” Bolts W Martin St. Louis declined an invitation from Messier. The belief is St. Louis wasn’t happy with being passed over for the Vancouver Games.
THIS ’N’ THAT
With 12 penalty minutes Tuesday, former 67’s C Zenon Konopka set the Tampa record for most PIMs in a season with 260. That topped the previous mark of 258 set by Enrico Ciccone in 1995-96.