Hard to believe that just four years ago, the Ottawa Senators were in the Stanley Cup Finals. But with the salary-cap era, that's the way things can go in the NHL.
With two games left to play, the Senators sit in 14th place in the Eastern Conference, and have already booked their tee times for after this weekend.
For the Montreal Canadiens, the final two games will just set up where they finish in the standings, and who they will play. The Habs can finish no better in the conference, but could still finish eighth, depending on how things pan out.
We do know that they will host Game 3 and Game 4 of the first round, and tickets for those games go on sale this Saturday at 2pm, but you will probably want to log into the virtual waiting room as soon as it opens (1:15 pm).
Thursday's meeting between the two clubs shaving less urgency for the Canadiens, and a matter of preserving dignity for the Senators. Ottawa has lost captain Daniel Alfredsson to back problems for the remainder of the season, but is still trying to play competitive hockey. A 5-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday demonstrated that.
For the visiting club, making the playoffs was ost important. They really don't seem concerned as to who they play on the opening round.
The Canadiens not needing to scratch and claw until the final game for a playoff spot gives coach Jacques Martin some options. Carey Price, the team's workhorse between the pipes, will get a rest Thursday and give Alex Auld a shot against his former team. Price will likely get a pre-playoff tuneup in the Canadiens final regular season game against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Jaroslav Spacek will probably get an extra game to recover from his injuries, and not be rushed back to action, and Martin also has the luxury to rest some of his other regulars for a game or two.
Hockey Night in Canada must have expected tonight's game to be a pivotal one, having booked the game well in advance for a bonus telecast. My guess is they were hoping Cherry, Milbury and co.could dig their fans into a squirming Habs clubs, and prove that trading Jaroslav Halak was a bad idea.
The Canadiens have won four of the previous five meetings with the Senators this season, outscoring them 20-8. It might give the players who do take the ice in Bleu, Blanc et Rouge to tune up their scoring touch for the playoffs.