Ottawa Senators at New York Rangers on March 24, 2011

The Ottawa Senators will be facing a tough opponent with plenty of incentive to win Thursday night.

Ottawa Senators at New York Rangers on March 24, 2011
Matt Puempel. (Julie Oliver/OttawaCitizen)


THE STORY:
The Ottawa Senators will be facing a tough opponent with plenty of incentive to win Thursday night. The New York Rangers currently sit seventh in the Eastern Conference, three points up on Buffalo and six ahead of Carolina, the only team left that has a realistic chance of catching them. A win against the last-place Senators would pretty much lock down a postseason seed.

THE SUBPLOTS: If all goes according to plan, the Senators should see the first returns from their latest investment. Craig Anderson, who signed a $12.75 million, four-year contract with the team earlier this week, is expected to get the start after resting a lower body injury. Anderson has struggled his last two games, but has otherwise been stellar for Ottawa.

THE WILDCARD: Jason Spezza, Senators. Spezza has been outstanding since returning from a separated shoulder earlier this season, and the Senators will need him to continue that type of play if they have any hope of beating the Rangers. It’s true they’ve been getting great goaltending themselves lately, but they’re running into one of the best netminders in the league in Henrik Lundqvist. He’ll be tough to beat.

THE OPPONENT: If only looked at the Rangers’ position in the standings, you might not take them quite as seriously as you should. New York is a solid 12th in the NHL in goals per game and a stingy fifth in goals against. That combination could make them a handful for any first round opponent. Oh, and they’ve won five straight.

THE QUOTE: “I’m just trying to win hockey games. I’m trying to improve our team. I’m trying to help these young guys get better. I’m trying to help the older guys get better. I’m trying to create a team environment, to create a team atmosphere that’s conducive to moving the team forward. A lot of things happened this year that put us in a situation where it didn’t allow us to get into the playoffs. No one feels worse about that than I do, or more responsible for it than I do.” — Coach Cory Clouston when asked whether he thought the last couple weeks of the season would be a tryout for him as well.

THE SICK BAY: G Pascal Leclaire (lower body, indefinite), RW Daniel Alfredsson (back, indefinite), C/W Peter Regin (shoulder, out for season), LW Milan Michalek (lower body, probable), D Matt Carkner (knee, 2-4 weeks), G Craig Anderson (undisclosed, probable). D Sergei Gonchar (concussion, indefinite).

THE PREDICTION: I really believe the Rangers are going to surprise a lot of people in the playoffs. They have a top-notch goalie, some solid scorers and a Cup-winning coach. That, combined with the fact the Blueshirts will be one step closer to a playoff spot with a win, suggests they’ll be a tough test for an Ottawa squad playing out the string. Senators 1, Rangers 3.

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