OTTAWA - Senators coach Paul MacLean will keep the pedal to the metal as the Senators enter the stretch drive.
The Senators took a day off to savour clinching a playoff spot in the East with a 5-1 victory over the New York Islanders Sunday, but now they return to work against the Carolina Hurricanes with a lot left to be decided.
Sitting as the No. 7 seed in the conference, the Senators are still being chased by the Washington Capitals. At this point, the only teams they can’t face are the Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils. The rest is unsettled.
That’s why with extra players like Zenon Konopka, Rob Klinkhammer, Bobby Butler and Matt Gilroy here, MacLean has to determine whether it’s more important for some players to get rested up for the post-season.
It doesn’t sound like that’s going to be the case, but MacLean did admit if players have lingering injuries they’re going to get time to rest them.
“Healthy is what you want to be going into the playoffs,” said MacLean. “But we’ve said all along we want to see where we are after 82 games. That’s still a mantra that we want to stick (with).
“We want to make sure that we’re here to play every game and we want to make sure we’re going to play. Now, if people have (nagging injuries) and whatnot, we’re not going to err on the side of playing, if not playing would be the right thing to do. We expect to come and play and play hard in the last three games.”
The Senators are pleased to have proved many experts wrong — the ones who made predictions they’d be battle for a fist overall draft pick, not a playoff spot.
“A lot of people just didn’t know what type of team we were going to be and we didn’t know what type of team we were going to be, either,” said winger Nick Foligno.
“We had a new coach, new players and a new identity that we had to try to figure out. I don’t know if we thought we were going to be able to figure it out this fast, but we have. It’s a lot of credit to everybody in the organization that we had everything in place to do well this year.
“But the work is still not done here. There’s still a lot of work to be done to be an elite Stanley Cup-contending team, but we feel like we’re getting closer and closer every day. We’re happy with the position that we’re in.”
The Senators have nothing to lose now that they are in the post-season.
“You’ve just got to get yourself to the dance, and once you get there, it’s a whole new ballgame,” said goalie Craig Anderson. “Anything can happen. You run into a hot goalie, hot player, hot power play, hot penalty killing — there are a few things that can go your way in a playoff series and help you win it. But first you have to be there, and right now we’ve got ourselves there.”
THIS ’N’ THAT
C Jason Spezza (birth of child) and RW Daniel Alfredsson (flu) are both expected to return against the Hurricanes after missing the Islanders game ... Expect to see G Ben Bishop ready to play Saturday against the Devils at the Prudential Center. Out with what’s believed to be a groin injury, he’d likely only get the net if the playoff positioning is wrapped up and Anderson wants the rest. There is no need for MacLean to take Anderson out of the net — he just had a month off because of a hand injury ... If the Senators play the Bruins, it would appear they’ll start April 12 at the TD Garden. The first round of the playoffs opens on April 11, but the building is booked for the NBA’s Celtics that night ... Reports Monday indicated the Senators will play a pre-season game next September against the Islanders in Barrie. Details are to be announced Tuesday.