That is definitely not something I thought would be in question when the season was in its early stages. It's disappointing that it took until the last gam of the season, but I'm still damned excited about the playoffs.
Despite the 2-1 loss the Sens suffered at the hands of the Bruins, the Sens made it into the playoffs through the back door. In what I can't describe as anything less than a playoff-like game--probably because both teams had their playoff lives on the line--the Sens came up short against the Bruins. Whatever. I don't care. Thanks to a 4-3 Florida Panthers victory over the Carolina Hurricanes, the 'Canes are now officially eliminated (EDIT: Actually, if Washington loses their last game against Florida, then they finish tied with Carolina and the Hurricanes would win the most-wins tie-breaker) from the playoffs and Ottawa will finish in either seventh or eighth (EDIT: The Sens could technically jump into sixth if Boston loses their last game, thanks to that most-wins tie-breaker). Thank you, Jacques Martin!
Speaking of the game against Boston, Antoine Vermette continued to step it up. He had a great game, made all sorts of chances, and scored the Sens' only goal. He's now got 4 goals in the past two games, the kind of offensive step-uppability that will make it difficult to consider letting him go as an unrestricted free agent this season. A bunch of other players had great games, too, but none of that matters anymore, because now the real season starts.
As it stands, the Sens will play either Pittsburgh or Montreal (EDIT: Or, depending on what happens with the earlier scenarios, Carolina or Washington). Without further adieu, here is an impromptu playoff preview, which will likely be elaborated upon once we figure out who will actually be the Sens' opponent.
Insane offensive firepower. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marian Hossa, Sergei Gonchar, Petr Sykora, among others. Goaltending has been up-and-down, but both Ty Conklin and Marc-Andre Fleury have had their moments. Defense is questionable; one hilarious comment I heard on the Team 1200 today was the accurate point that the Pens picked up Hal Gill at the deadline as a defensive upgrade; this guy would be lucky to crack Ottawa's top six if it weren't for his size. Pittsburgh will probably also benefit from the return of Gary Roberts when he returns from his injury, but they lost some serious depth when they acquired Hossa. The Sens handily defeated the Pens last year, but this Pittsburgh team has had one full year more to develop, and Malkin kind of scares the shit out of me. It wouldn't be an easy series, but if Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza step it up as they can, Vermette continues the way he's going, and the role players... well... play their roles, the Sens have what it takes to beat the Pens.
What an amazing series this would be. Montreal is always such a hard team to predict, however. The resurgence of Alexei Kovalev is nothing to scoff at, but he has been known to lose interest in games if he's punished physically. Thomas Plekanec can also be controlled if you pressure him, and Ottawa's shutdown defencemen like Anton Volchenkov, Chris Phillips, Mike Commodore, and Christoph Schubert (should he drop back) should be able to make his life difficult. Carey Price is an unknown quantity; if he steals games, there is very little the Sens can do aside from continuing to get to him with everything--shots, bodies, snow, verbal abuse--to try and knock him off his game. Nothing's worked so far, but Price hasn't had to deal with the same guy in his crease, stepping on his toes, for 4-7 games straight. That means Chris Neil, Martin Lapointe, Shean Donovan, and Cody Bass will have their work cut out for them, and they'll have to do so while staying out of the penalty box to avoid Montreal's punishing powerplay.
I don't really care who we play at this point. Whichever team it is poses difficulties, but every team in the league also has vulnerabilities that can be exploited if the coach can find a way to pick them out and take advantage. I think the Sens should be able to take down just about any team in the East, especially if they get Mike Fisher, Chris Kelly, or Daniel Alfredsson back from their injuries sooner rather than later.
(EDIT: Sorry, I wrote this late last night and I apparently missed a few things. I added in edits wherever I made mistakes. I'll add in a preview for the Washington or Carolina scenarios later this afternoon if I can.)