The Ottawa Senators could finish as high as fifth in the Eastern Conference or as low as eighth, but they’re just happy being in the playoffs.
Having reigning Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson back is nice, too.
Ottawa will try to avoid a season-high third straight home loss Saturday night against a Philadelphia Flyers team that’s closing out a non-playoff season on a surge.
Back after missing 31 games with a lacerated Achilles’ tendon, Karlsson set up two goals - one of them Sergei Gonchar’s winner - in a 2-1 overtime victory at Washington on Thursday. That helped the Senators (24-16-6) clinch a playoff berth and move into sixth in the East.
Should Ottawa finish in that spot, it would open against the Capitals. The Senators, though, could also overtake fifth-place Toronto or get passed by the New York Rangers and Islanders.
“This is what you fight for all year - to get into the playoffs,” captain Daniel Alfredsson said. “No matter who you play, it’s going to be a tough series. Everybody poses different challenges, and I think we’re the same way: We pose different challenges to other teams.”
The Senators are a much more dangerous team with Karlsson on the ice. Expected to be sidelined up to six months after Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke stepped on the back of his leg Feb. 13, the defenseman played a game-high 27-plus minutes Thursday as the Senators improved to 5-2-0 since a season-worst five-game losing streak. That slide ended with a 3-1 win at Philadelphia on April 11.
“I would have been happy if I sat in the stands and we would have won this game, as well, I think, and that’s the main goal,” Karlsson said. “I’m going to have to work on my stuff, and as long as this team keeps winning, I’m going to be happy.”
The Flyers (22-22-3) appear to be playing mad after missing the postseason, winning three straight and five of six. They’ve outscored opponents 23-11 in the five victories.
“What’s the point? There’s no difference (if we win Saturday),” said Ilya Bryzgalov who finished with 21 saves in a 2-1 victory over the Islanders on Thursday. “We are not going to make the playoffs. It doesn’t matter whether you’re two games below or two games above .500. It’s pointless.
“Of course, it’s nice to win the games, but at the end of the day it doesn’t change anything.”
There could be a number of changes made in the offseason, though, as coach Peter Laviolette’s return for a fifth season is in doubt. Veteran center Danny Briere could also be playing his last game in a Flyers sweater.
“It wouldn’t be right for me to start commenting on that at this point,” Briere said. “I have a job to do. I have one more game to play.”
Briere scored just his sixth goal of the season Thursday.
The Senators are seeking a 12th victory in Philadelphia’s last 14 visits. Ottawa plays at Boston in Sunday’s regular-season finale, a game rescheduled from April 15 due to the Boston Marathon bombings.