Ottawa Senators at Buffalo Sabres on March 13, 2011

The Ottawa Senators are winners of three straight after knocking off the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 on Friday night. Can they keep it going against a Buffalo Sabres team in a life-and-death struggle to make the playoffs?

Ottawa Senators at Buffalo Sabres on March 13, 2011
PITTSBURGH, PA - APRIL 13: Jason Spezza #19 of the Ottawa Senators handles the puck against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the game at Consol Energy Center on April 13, 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Senators defeated the Penguins 3-2 in a shootout. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)


THE STORY:
The Ottawa Senators are winners of three straight after knocking off the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 on Friday night. Can they keep it going against a Buffalo Sabres team in a life-and-death struggle to make the playoffs? Much will depend on goalie Craig Anderson, who had a night off against the Bolts. If he continues to play outstanding hockey, the Senators could change their name to the Spoilers down the stretch.

THE SUBPLOTS: Of course, Anderson’s strong play raises another issue: Will Senators fans get to enjoy it beyond the end of this season? Anderson is an unrestricted free agent and he may want to test the free agent waters come July 1. General manager Bryan Murray probably doesn’t want that to happen. Better to sign him soon and avoid a bidding war.

THE WILDCARD: Sergei Gonchar. It appears the Russian puck-mover might finally be getting comfortable with his surroundings. After he was seemingly on the ice for every goal against earlier this season, Gonchar has only had two minus games in his last 15. That’s good news for the Senators, who are on the hook for his big ticket contract for two more seasons.

THE OPPONENT: The Sabres are coming off a tough loss under current circumstances. Their hold on the final playoff spot is tenuous at best — they’re up four points on Toronto and Atlanta and two on Carolina. The good news is they have a game in hand on all three of those teams, which they need to cash it in a with a win against the Eastern Conference’s last place team tonight.

THE QUOTE: “It’s great when you’ve got both goaltenders playing well. I’ve been saying this for years: Your goaltenders have to be the backbone of your team. They don’t have to win you every game, but they have to be the backbone of your team. What I mean by that is that they have to go out there and you have to believe they’ve going to be good for you that night.” — Coach Cory Clouston Anderson and Curtis McElhinney, who are giving the Senators something that was missing earlier this season.

THE SICK BAY: Senators — G Pascal Leclaire (lower body, indefinite), RW Daniel Alfredsson (back, indefinite), C/W Peter Regin (shoulder, out for season), LW Milan Michalek (lower body, indefinite), D Matt Carkner (knee, 2-4 weeks). Sabres — G Patrick Lalime (knee, questionable), D Chris Butler (upper body, questionable), C Paul Gaustad (upper body, questionable), RW Drew Stafford (hamstring, doubtful), C Derek Roy (quad, out for season), RW Patrick Kaletta (leg, late March).

THE PREDICTION: As previously mentioned, the Sabres blew a third period lead in a critical loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs Saturday night. Expect Lindy Ruff to have his group ready for a bounce-back against the Senators. Ottawa 1, Sabres 3. Click here to see who the rest of our prediction panel likes in this one.

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