The Ottawa Senators will be in the Stanley Cup championship series this season.


That’s the word from Don Cherry, who also figures there’ll be a major overhaul in Ottawa if his prediction isn’t correct.


“If Ottawa doesn’t do something this year, there’ll be a lot of guys paying the price, I’ll tell you that,” CBC’s hockey star said yesterday. “They can’t choke again.”


The Sens are favoured to defeat Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins in a playoff series that opens in Ottawa tonight, but Cherry doesn’t anticipate a cakewalk for Ottawa.


He specified the Pens’ Gary Roberts as a potential problem for the Sens and recalled that, with the Maple Leafs a few seasons ago, the veteran forward gave Ottawa fits.

“Ottawa has the scorers and a good defence,” Cherry said, “but if Pittsburgh gets off to a good start, well, they’ll think Ottawa will choke again. And, let’s face it, they’ve done it before.”

And, let’s face it, Cherry has put his foot in his mouth before. And yet he’s still with Hockey Night In Canada.

He’s also on the verge of breaking into the U.S. market. He and upstart loudmouth Brett Hull will share air time on both NBC and CBC during this season’s playoffs.

In Canada, for reasons that mystify some, Cherry is widely perceived as legendary. But are Americans ready for his rants?

“I think so,” Hull said. “Personality is missing from American sports coverage,” and Hull believes Cherry will supply some. Cherry, of course, figures he’ll be a hit down south. “I think I’m great at what I do,” he said.

Hull, incidentally, believes the Calgary Flames may upset the Detroit Red Wings in their series, which starts tomorrow night.

“If there’s a team that reminds me of Edmonton of last year, it’s Calgary,” Hull said. “They’re unbeatable at home. If they can steal one on the road, and I think they can, they’ll do well. If there’s one team that has true home-ice advantage, it’s Calgary. It’s intimidating to go in there. I think the Red Wings have to be careful.”

The Flames appeal to Cherry, too. “There’s something about Calgary that reminds me of an old-time hockey team,” he said. “They’re all scarred up and everything like that.”

Hull and Cherry agree also that the Anaheim Ducks will represent the West in the final. Hull, however, likes the Buffalo Sabres from the East.

Oh, and my hunch for the Stanley Cup final? Buffalo vs. Vancouver.