OTTAWA — When Pierre Dorion took over as Senators general manager before this NHL season, he was confident he was inheriting a playoff-calibre team.
Dorion can now breathe a sigh of relief after Ottawa clinched a playoff berth with a 2-1 shootout win over the Boston Bruins on Thursday.
For much of the season Ottawa looked poised to make the playoffs, but a rash of injuries and a five-game losing streak down the stretch started to raise some doubt as they fell into the final wild card spot with teams close behind.
This week the Senators rebounded with a shootout loss and a win against Detroit, before posting its victory over Boston. With two games remaining they still have a chance to secure home ice advantage for the opening round of the playoffs as they currently sit second in the Atlantic Division.
"A lot of the credit has to be given to our players to fight through all the adversity that we had to fight through this year," Dorion said on a conference call Friday. "A lot of credit has to be given to our coaching staff, led by Guy Boucher. I think they've done an excellent job this year with what they had."
The Senators will wrap up the season with games against the New York Rangers and New York Islanders with a number of players still sidelined by injury.
Most notably the Senators will likely be without star defenceman Erik Karlsson, who suffered a foot injury Tuesday and missed Thursday's game. Dorion did say if the playoffs were to start tomorrow Karlsson would be playing, as would forward Zack Smith, who suffered an upper body injury March 30.
The news isn't quite as optimistic for forward Bobby Ryan and defenceman Marc Methot.
Methot is recovering from an injury to his finger on his left hand from a slash from Sidney Crosby April 7, while Ryan is recovering from an undisclosed injury after leaving Monday's game against Detroit.
"We're very hopeful that they'll be back for the playoffs," said Dorion.
At this point the Senators don't know who they will face in the opening round as a number of scenarios are still in play with two games remaining. Potential candidates include the President Trophy winning Washington Capitals, Boston or Toronto.
"The short term goal for us is most importantly to avoid any further injury in the last two games," Dorion said. "After that wherever we finish, we finish. We can play three teams and they're three good teams."
Dorion admitted to taking some time last night to ponder all that the team has gone through this season to reach its goal of making the playoffs.
Things didn't get off to good start when Clarke MacArthur suffered a concussion in training camp and was expected to miss the remainder of the season, but made a surprising return this past Tuesday.
The Senators then learned they would be without No. 1 goaltender indefinitely as Craig Anderson's wife, Nicholle, was diagnosed with throat cancer in October.
Despite the hardships the Senators had a number of highlights, including the play of Mike Condon in Anderson's absence as well as a victory in Chicago for the first time since 2001 and, not surprisingly, the outstanding play of Karlsson.
"It's what we've done together as a group and I think that's where the players really deserve most of the credit," said Dorion.
"We accomplished our goal of making the playoffs. The fact that right from the start of the season the players accepted and liked Guy Boucher's system that allowed for success. Players made personal sacrifices for team success which is a step forward for the organization."
With the first part of his plan taken care of Dorion says its time to start looking ahead.
"Let's get into the playoffs and hopefully we can make a bit of noise when the playoffs start and that's really our goal right now."
Notes: Chris Neil has been removed from injured reserve. The winger hasn't played since Feb. 26 when he suffered a broken finger in a fight.
Lisa Wallace, The Canadian Press