Ottawa Senators at Tampa Bay Lightning on March 29, 2011

The Ottawa Senators have been winning quite a few low-scoring games lately, but are coming off a high-scoring loss to the Atlanta Thrashers. The Lightning, meanwhile, aren’t exactly surging towards the playoffs.

Ottawa Senators at Tampa Bay Lightning on March 29, 2011


THE STORY:
The Ottawa Senators have been winning quite a few low-scoring games lately, but are coming off a high-scoring loss to the Atlanta Thrashers. The Lightning, meanwhile, aren’t exactly surging towards the playoffs. Tampa is just 3-3-4 in its last 10 games and have already lost to the Eastern Conference’s last place team twice this month. Is the third time a charm?

THE SUBPLOTS: With every solid outing, the Senators move further away from the top three in the upcoming draft lottery. Despite losing to the Thrashers, Ottawa picked up a point for making it to the shootout. They’re now four points up on the NHL’s second-last team, the Colorado Avalanche, which lost again in regulation time last night. The Avs are in full tank mode, blowing an early 2-0 lead over the Anaheim Ducks. The Senators could also pass the Florida Panthers with a win tonight.

THE WILDCARD: Curtis McElhinney, Senators. Ottawa has already gotten more mileage out of their short-term backup that anyone expected, including both wins over the Lightning in March. If he does get the start and plays as well as he did in those 2-1 and 3-2 contests, the Senators have a great shot at another win. If he reverts to old McElhinney, they won’t have a prayer.

THE OPPONENT: The Lightning are a bit of a strange case. They’re one of two teams currently in a playoff position with a negative goal differential (the Ducks are the other) and rank just 23rd in the NHL in goals against per game. This is a team that lives and dies with its scoring (seventh overall), which is a bit of a scary prospect heading to the defence-first postseason.

THE QUOTE: “Ideally, we continue to win and all the teams that are ahead of us continue to win, as well. So we play well and win games, but we also get the draft pick. But as an organization, we want to improve as quickly as we can and get into the playoffs. That being said, there are jobs to be had and you can’t just lay down to get that draft pick. Everybody individually here has to prove where they fit into the future here.” — Senators winger Ryan Shannon on balancing the present and the future.

THE SICK BAY: G Pascal Leclaire (lower body, out for season), 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). D Sergei Gonchar (concussion, indefinite).

THE PREDICTION: Well, I’ve already taken the Lightning over the Senators twice in March, so I may as well go for the hat trick. Ottawa did win both those games, but doesn’t that mean playoff-bound Tampa is overdue to beat the last-place Sens? Ottawa 2, Tampa 3. (See who the rest of our prediction panel likes in this one by clicking here)

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