Sub-zero Senators face long playoff odds if they qualify

After nabbing three of a possible four points against the pitiful Detroit Red Wings this week, the Ottawa Senators now appear to be a lock to make the playoffs. Their magic number is down to one, meaning all they need to qualify is a single point either gained by them or lost by the Tampa Bay Lightning.

While the seeding is yet to be determined, it appears that, barring a really nice final week (which they’ll have to play with several key players sidelined) the Senators will be the only team to enter the playoffs with a negative goal differential. They’re currently at minus-three, with games remaining at the Boston Bruins, home against the New York Rangers and away at the New York Islanders.

Now, if you were making a case that they’re a legitimate team with a legitimate chance to go far, you’d probably focus on the fact that they have the best defenceman in the world in Erik Karlsson and a top-five NHL goalie in Craig Anderson. Anderson especially will be key – if he can stay in the .925 range in save percentage, the Senators will have a chance to win on any given night. It’s also important to note that Anderson missed large chunks of the season to be with his family as his wife underwent cancer treatments, and it may be that Ottawa would have been a plus team otherwise. Anderson is a significant upgrade over Mike Condon, who nevertheless did an admirable job holding down the fort while the No. 1 netminder was away.

However, if you were to strip all that away and look only at the playoff records of negative-differential teams over the past 10 years, things are decidedly less positive. Of the 12 sub-zero teams to qualify over the past 10 seasons, only two have survived the first round. Here’s a look at what happened by playoff year:

  • 2016 – Detroit (-13) – lose 4-1 in first round to Tampa 4-1
  • 2016 – Philadelphia (-4) – lose 4-2 in first round to Washington
  • 2014 – Detroit (-8) – lose 4-1 in first round to Boston
  • 2013 – Minnesota (-5) – lose 4-1 in first round to Chicago
  • 2012 – Florida (-24 !) – lose 4-3 in first round to New Jersey
  • 2012 – Washington (-8) – Beat Boston as seventh-seed 4-3, lost in Round 2 against Rangers
  • 2010 – Ottawa (-13) – lost 4-2 to Pittsburgh
  • 2010 – Montreal (-6) – won 4-3 against Washington as eighth seed, went to conference final
  • 2009 – Rangers (-8) – lost 4-3 to Washington
  • 2009 – Columbus (-4) – lost 4-0 to Detroit
  • 2008 – Boston (-12) – lost 4-3 to Montreal
  • 2007 – Tampa (-8) – lost 4-2 to New Jersey

A little wrinkle that could come into play: due to the NHL’s absurd divisional playoff format, the Senators are in a position not only to get home-ice advantage, but to possibly face a relatively equal opponent in the Toronto Maple Leafs. Had they qualified under the old conference format, they’d be facing one of Washington, Pittsburgh or Columbus. So they have that going for ’em.

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James Gordon, a former Ottawa Citizen hockey writer and sports editor, is publisher of Follow him on Twitter here.

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