Send in the Sabres

Senators winger Brian McGrattan douses himself with water during a break in practice yesterday at...

Senators winger Brian McGrattan douses himself with water during a break in practice yesterday at Scotiabank Place. The Sens are itching to get back on the ice to resume their Cup quest. (Ottawa Sun/Tony Caldwell)

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:18 AM ET

The Senators are going to have another spring fling with the Buffalo Sabres.

For the third time in team history, Ottawa will match up with Buffalo in a series that's expected to start Friday night at Scotiabank Place.

"It's not official, but ... it's almost certain," CBC's Ron MacLean told viewers last night.

While many fans hoped the Senators might face the Montreal Canadiens in the post-season for the first time, the dream died last night when Cory Stillman's overtime goal allowed the Carolina Hurricanes to eliminate the Habs in six games.

That result, and the Sabres' 7-1 whipping of the Philadelphia Flyers -- that series also ended in six games -- set the table for the Ottawa-Buffalo conference semi-final.

The fourth-seeded Sabres are expected to travel to Ottawa tomorrow for Friday's opener. It's likely Game 2 will be played Monday, before the series shifts to Buffalo for games Wednesday and Friday at HSBC Arena.

"We know they're going to be a tough test," Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson said of the Sabres. "They're a strong team, they've got a lot of speed. We've had tough games against them all year and this should be a good series."

Senators fans surely hope it isn't a repeat of 1999, when Ottawa was swept in four straight games by a Sabres team backstopped by the standout goaltending of Dominik Hasek.

Nobody here will ever forget the club's first post-season meeting with the Sabres in 1997 -- also the Senators' first-ever playoff appearance. That's when Ottawa suffered a heartbreaking 4-3 OT defeat in Game 7 as Derek Plante's shot went through goalie Ron Tugnutt's glove.

The Senators had a 5-3 record against the Sabres in the regular season this year. Ottawa also outscored Buffalo 35-20, but the Sabres and goaltender Ryan Miller have been on a roll in the playoffs.

"We look at a team like Buffalo as (one which) is a lot like us," said Senators centre Mike Fisher. "They're such a good team and they've got a lot of speed. They'll be hard to play against. But we think we match up pretty well against them."

Miller, who got stronger as the series against the Flyers went on, looks forward to the challenge of facing the No. 1 seed in the East.

"I think they'll have to worry a little bit about us the way we've been playing," Miller said.

Added defenceman Jay McKee: "Remember ... we only finished three points behind them in the standings."

With the shocking elimination of the Detroit Red Wings from the NHL playoffs, the Senators are now the highest seed remaining in the playoffs -- and presumably, the new favourite to win the Stanley Cup.

By virtue of their 113 points in the regular season, the Senators will have home-ice advantage all the way through the Cup final if they're able to get there.

The Red Wings, who had 124 points during the regular season and won the President's Trophy, were ousted Monday night in Edmonton by the Oilers, the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference.

"See, I told you guys the regular season was important," said Senators coach Bryan Murray following yesterday's workout at Scotiabank Place, where the Senators would now play a potential Game 7 in the Stanley Cup final.

"Home ice is very important in the Stanley Cup final," said Senators GM John Muckler. "I'm not saying that having a Game 7 at home is going to guarantee that you win, but I'd sure rather play at home than have to go into somebody else's building to play."


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