With fewer than two weeks left in the regular season the NHL's playoff race is reaching it's critical point.
I'm sure many would agree major story of late has been the Ottawa Senators' dramatic run back into contention behind first-year goalie Andrew Hammond. In early February the Sens were 14 points out of a qualifying spot, but last week they jumped up above Boston into eighth in the East.
A three-game losing streak has since dealt a blow and makes their visit to Detroit tonight critical to their hopes. It would be a great achievement to see them make the postseason, although taking them on odds of 41.00 to win the Stanley Cup might be a bit of a push.
Nicknamed the "Hamburglar", Hammond brought average stats up from the minors when Robin Lehner was injured so nobody expected him to take the league by storm in such a way. The 27-year-old went 14-0-1 in his first 15 starts and allowed two goals or fewer in the first 12 of those, becoming only the second netminder in NHL history to achieve that feat. The New York Rangers remain the only team to have beaten him in regulation.
Captain Erik Karlsson played a big role in the turnaround too, and made his case to be named the league's top defenceman in the process. He leads all blueliners in points as is so key for the Sens in the way he carries the puck up ice.
His defensive partner Marc Methot balances out the Swede's free-wheeling style and his role is not to be underestimated. Rookie forwards Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman have also been catalysts up front, Stone a power forward and Hoffman a speedster. Either of those would be solid picks to score this evening.
Tonight's opponents the Red Wings still have some work to do to confirm their playoff place after a stretch of two wins from seven. Mike Babcock would surely like his team to sure up their poor performing defence and generate some momentum heading into the first round. They haven't met Ottawa since December but all three previous games have been well contested.
Best bet: With Boston hosting Florida in another key game tonight, the Senators should be motivated and are worth taking to win at 3.30