Sensational

TODD SAELHOF -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 4:08 PM ET


 Never mind the regular season and the disappointing fifth-place finish in the NHL's Eastern Conference.

 The Ottawa Senators will win the 2004 Stanley Cup over the Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings or Vancouver Canucks, take your pick.

 The Sens have all the attributes of not only a legitimate Cup contender but a worthy Cup winner -- offence, defence, coaching, depth and the experience of last year's near run to the final series.

 Nobody has scored more this season than the Senators. Their 262- goal production is tops in the NHL, anchored by three 30-goal scorers in Marian Hossa (36), Daniel Alfredsson (32) and Martin Havlat (31), two 20-goal scorers in Jason Spezza (22) and Peter Bondra (26) and 19-goal-getter Bryan Smolinski.

 The backline has also chipped in with Wade Redden (17) and Zdeno Chara (16) supplying more than an occasional attack.

 And that same backline, anchored again by Redden and Chara, knows its primary role.

 Defensively, there are few better teams in the league -- the Sens' 189 goals against is somewhat inflated this season because of struggles between the posts.

 Patrick Lalime has struggled this season.

 So what?

 His post-season experience puts him among the best of today's batch.

 Last year, only the two Stanley Cup goalies, J-S Giguere and Martin Brodeur, proved better statistically.

 Lalime finished with 11 wins and a 1.82 goals-against average to go along with a fourth-best .924 save percentage.

 It follows the 2002 NHL playoffs, when Lalime led all goalies with a 1.39 GAA after posting three straight shutouts.

 In his 34-game post-season career, he has 18 wins, five shutouts and a 1.73 GAA.

 After all, the post-season is a new season, where regular-season stats and performances go to die.

 It's certainly true of the Senators and archrival Toronto Maple Leafs, who meet again in yet another promising playoff war in this spring's first round.

 The team that dominates the regular-season series has been the loser of their subsequent playoff meetings.

 Furthermore, the Leafs' domination this year (4-1-1) provides the Senators a rallying point.

 In fact, Saturday night's season finale, a 6-0 embarrassing loss to the Leafs on home ice and Hockey Night In Canada, will serve as a well-timed wake-up call for the Senators.

 Ottawa's roster, with more than 1,000 playoff games to its credit, now boasts four proven lines, deep in talent, offence and defensive savvy.

 They're hungry, especially after that late Jeff Friesen goal in a 3-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final last spring.

 Last year's run was done without Alfredsson and Chara playing to their full potential.

 Both were criticized for their disappearance in the 2003 playoffs but both have rebounded this season.

 Their personal redemption should continue in the post-season.

 So should the team's.


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