There are three games left in the Ottawa Senators' regular season, but rookie coach Paul MacLean claims he hasn't lifted his eyes to evaluate possible playoff matchups.
That sounds like a nose-stretcher (how could he not?), but given the promptness of the answer when he was asked about it Tuesday after his team's practice, perhaps it isn't.
After all, MacLean learned during his long apprenticeship as an assistant in Detroit that it doesn't pay to think too far ahead.
“We want to be playing and playing hard, not just putting our sticks out on the ice . . . we want to be ready for game 83,” he said.
To that end, the Senators expect to dress their full lineup for Tuesday's game against the Carolina Hurricanes - other than defenceman Sergei Gonchar, who is nursing a lower-body injury - though it matters not a jot in terms of their playoff status, a win would help draw closer to the sixth-place New Jersey Devils and a more favourable first-round matchup.
Should Ottawa win and the Devils lose to the Islanders on Tuesday, the Senators would be just two points back of New Jersey with two games to play. An Ottawa win would also guarantee that they finish no lower than seventh.
But if the Sens lose in overtime or a shootout and the Devils win in regulation or overtime, the Devils would clinch sixth. If both teams lose, Ottawa would have a chance to catch the Devils, should both Ottawa and New Jersey win, the same would hold true.
The Sens play Jersey in Newark on Saturday in the season finale for both teams, and though they like their chances against the Boston Bruins - the current second-versus-seventh matchup - it would surely be an easier test to face the third-seeded Florida Panthers, who actually have fewer points than the Senators on the season but have a higher spot in the conference standings because they lead the Southeast division.
“It's what we said from the get-go, you get in there and anything can happen,” said winger Chris Neil.
That's a shopworn expression, of course, but Neil said the team truly believes it.
“We've played the conference well . . . just getting in there is the biggest thing, that's what you play for, if you get a home seed that's better, but starting on the road isn't always that bad,” he smiled.