A lock — minus 5.5 per cent

The Ottawa Senators insist they’re looking no further ahead than Thursday’s game against the New York Rangers, but their odds of making the playoffs are fast becoming a sure bet.

The Ottawa Senators insist they’re looking no further ahead than Thursday’s game against the New York Rangers, but their odds of making the playoffs are fast becoming a sure bet.

Their chances of playing post-season hockey are now at 94.5 per cent, according to sportsclubstats.com, which analyses the point totals and remaining schedules of NHL teams.

The numbers tell plenty about about the Senators surprising season, as well as the rather shocking struggles of the teams chasing them for one of the precious eight playoff spots in the Conference.

At this point, eight certainly appears to be enough – as in the eight-point gap between the Senators and the Washington Capitals, who currently hold down ninth place. The dysfunctional Capitals blew yet another game Tuesday, losing 4-3, in overtime, to the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Senators 7-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday, which ended a modest two-game losing streak, also gave the Senators a double-digit lead on the Lightning and Buffalo Sabres, who went into Wednesday’s games tied for 10th in the Conference.

(Buffalo played Carolina Wednesday. The Toronto Maple Leafs, who trailed Tampa and Buffalo by one point, also played the Pittsburgh Penguins Wednesday.)

For Tampa, Buffalo or Toronto to catch the Senators now, they would need to win five more games than Ottawa during the final four weeks of the season.

‘As great as their odds are, captain Daniel Alfredsson says the attitude is to “treat the next game as the most important one”. The Senators aren’t flawless, by any means. Despite Tuesday’s victory over Tampa, the Senators haven’t played a complete game since a 1-0 win over the Boston Bruins on Feb. 28.

“We like the position we’re in right now, but we know there are still games we need to play and win,” said MacLean. “We’re not going to get distracted by what’s out there in the bigger picture.”

There are goals beyond simply making the playoffs, too. With a great final stretch, the Senators could climb and they’re within striking distance of the Boston Bruins for top spot in the Northeast Division. The Senators trail the Bruins by three points, but Boston has played three fewer games.

“You really do focus on your own games and taking care of those, but after the game, you check and see the teams around you and how they’ve done,” said Jason Spezza. “It’s not something you stress about everyday, or if somebody picks up two points on you or you pick up two points on them and you worry, but you pay more attention because there are (fewer and fewer) games.”

Ideally, according to captain Daniel Alfredsson, the best preparation for the playoffs is to be playing well during the stretch run. Yet that may not be necessary to qualify.

Generally, it takes at least 91 points to make the post-season in the Eastern Conference, but the magic number is trending to be lower – perhaps 88 or 89 points – this season, considering the inconsistencies of Winnipeg, Washington, Buffalo, Tampa Bay and Toronto.

If that continues, the Senators might need to only win five or six of their final 14 games to get in.

Relatively speaking, the Senators have a light schedule remaining. They play eight of their final 14 at Scotiabank Place, but the locale doesn’t seem to matter much. Their road record of 18-12-5 is actually a tad better than their home mark of 17-13-3.

In addition, half of their remaining opponents are currently on the outside looking in at a playoff spot. After playing the Rangers, the Senators next four opponents are on the outside looking in: Buffalo, Montreal (twice) and Toronto on St. Patrick’s Day.

While the Senators may be in position to finish off the Maple Leafs in what figures to be a building full of spirit – and spirits – it will complete a tough stretch of three games in four days for Ottawa. In a scheduling quirk, the Maple Leafs will be in Ottawa watching the Senators play the Canadiens the night before. It will also mark the fifth time this season that the Senators have played the Maple Leafs after playing the night before.

The Maple Leafs could have already sealed their own fate by then. The game against the Senators will conclude a five-game road trip for Toronto.

The road could also ultimately determine whether Washington, Winnipeg or Tampa Bay squeaks into the post-season.

Washington is 11-18-3 away from home and its stretch run includes a five-game road trip from March 13-22. Winnipeg, a weak 11-17-4 outside of Manitoba, plays nine of its final 15 games in their opponents’ rinks.

Tampa Bay, an impressive 20-10-4 at home, begins a seven-game homestand on Saturday. That will be be offset by a closing stretch that sees the Lightning play six of their final eight games on the road, where they’ve struggled badly. Among Eastern Conference teams, only Carolina has a worse record. Tampa Bay’s biggest concern, however, is the loss of goaltender Mathieu Garon to injury, forcing Dwayne Roloson back into the net. It’s an area the Senators fully exploited Tuesday to put themselves in a more secure position.

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