Friday, January 3, 2014
Cruel Fate May Force A Final Day Race Between Wings and Sens
If the Ottawa Senators are going to make the playoffs, they’re going to have to crawl over Daniel Alfredsson and the Detroit Red Wings to do so.
Only the hockey gods could have such a sick and deranged sense of humour.
As of Friday morning, the Senators are 3 measly points behind the Red Wings for that last, coveted Wild Card spot with no teams in between. But the only ones smiling about it are the reporters.
Surely Alfredsson isn't happy about the situation.
He thought he’d signed on with the Detroit franchise that’s made the playoffs every year since 1991 and are always a threat to play into June. Instead he’s playing on a team in obvious decline that’s already been through both a 7 and 6 game winless streak over the course of three months. They've lost 3 of their last 4 and 10 of their last 14, all the while managing to let a whole slew of Eastern Conference teams to get within reach, including New Jersey, the Rangers, Columbus and Carolina.
But it’s Ottawa who must give the Wings more sleepless nights than the others. Winners of their last 3 and suddenly getting real goaltending from Craig Anderson, the Senators undoubtedly have the most talent of the teams currently out of the two wildcard spots. Ottawa has played well-below what they’re capable of and that’s got to be a concern for Detroit with their number one goalie Jimmy Howard having lost 11 of his last 12. Anderson looks like he may be turning things around. Howard, not so much.
It gets even more complicated for the Wings as they now embark on a 5-game road trip that brings them way out West to meet powerhouses like Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Jose, bookended by trips to Dallas and New York – neither “gimme games” in any sense.
The good news for the Wings is that they’re actually better on the road than they are at home, sporting a 12-4-3 record away from Joe Louis arena where they’re 4 games under .500. If you’re a Sens fan looking at those numbers, you might be thinking you can’t catch a break, but the Wings have already faced the Sharks and Ducks and lost both times. They haven’t played a lot of the really good teams on the road yet with the exception of Boston at the start of the season. So there’s a real chance for Ottawa to make up some ground here if the Wings falter. And their recent record indicates there’s a better than good chance of that happening.
Despite Ottawa’s recent run of good hockey, they can’t be smiling about the situation either.
On top of being a lousy team for most of October and November, they now have to catch and overcome the one organization that could do them the most public relations damage. Let’s be serious here. Having the Wings be the one team to keep Ottawa from making the playoffs would be heartbreaking for the entire Sens organization.
It would once again remind everyone of the lousy summer that had fans openly mocking their owner for perceived cheapness in the Alfie negotiations, only now Eugene Melnyk would also be losing playoff profits at the end of the fairy tale.
It would be one thing for the Sens to miss and see Detroit finish in the top 3 like most had them pegged. It would be another to miss out because the Wings out-survived you for the final Wild Card spot.
Let’s face reality here. The Leafs have shown no signs of really falling off the map despite a few bad stretches along the way. I’m not saying they’re a lock for the playoffs but I can see them pulling away from Detroit and Ottawa more than I can see them falling back.
In fact, let’s just ignore every other possibility. What the hell.
We all know it’s coming down to Detroit and Ottawa because the one thing you can expect as a fan is constant pain and torment, and this could provide the richest slice of it since the Battle Of Ontario days between Jacques Martin and Pat Quinn. We’re talking psyche altering suffering here if Alfredsson denies the Senators the post-season in 2014. But we could also be talking about Ottawa proving Alfredsson wrong by denying him the chance to win that Stanley Cup he so genuinely wants.
It really is a bizarre showdown but one that seems inevitable. Imagine for a moment the Senators having to beat Toronto on the last day of the schedule and waiting one more day to see if Detroit will beat the St. Louis Blues.
Then imagine a city in meltdown mode.
You just know it’s coming, right? “Serenity now… insanity later.”