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Playoffs nearing

It’s all but certain the Senators will have nothing to show for theDany Heatley trade for the rest of the regular season and, depending onthe state of Milan Michalek’s knee, possibly the playoffs.

It’s all but certain the Senators will have nothing to show for the Dany Heatley trade for the rest of the regular season and, depending on the state of Milan Michalek’s knee, possibly the playoffs.

With Jonathan Cheechoo in the minors and the second-round pick still to be selected, the Senators have no contribution from the returns of the Heatley trade, but even with a shocking post-Olympic swoon, they should feel good about their chances of making the playoffs and holding their fifth-place spot in what is a decidedly mediocre Eastern Conference beyond the top four teams.

That’s because including last night’s home game against Philadelphia, the Senators play their final nine games against some Eastern Conference patsies, only four of whom will likely be in the post-season. Against the seven teams they play in their final nine, the Senators have a record of 14-6-1 (going into last night’s game) and have outscored their opponents by a 64-61 margin.

They play the Buffalo Sabres twice, once at home Saturday night and in the season finale in Buffalo April 10, but the good news is they go into those games with a perfect 4-0-0 mark against the Sabres and have outscored them 14-7. Should the Senators take both those games in regulation, it would give them four valuable points against their Northeastern Division rival, but would it be enough for the Senators to catch the Sabres for first in the division and a top-three seed in the Eastern Conference? Probably not, since the Sabres entered last night seven points ahead of the Senators and sit this morning with three games in hand.

But that might not be the greatest thing for them. If the Senators can hang on for fifth place, they would almost certainly assure themselves of a first-round matchup against either the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins (gulp) or the New Jersey Devils (double gulp). While the Senators have played the Penguins well this season, splitting the four games between the two teams, they are still the Cup champions. The Devils? Well, they’re 1-3-0 against New Jersey and have been outscored 13-8.

The only real alternative might be to slip to sixth and draw the Sabres in the first round, but even that’s not a terribly palatable proposition.

Clearly, though, with or without Michalek, the Senators will face a big challenge getting out of the first round.