Ottawa Senators know they have a playoff spot. What they don't know is which one.
Ottawa is still seventh in the Eastern Conference after Thursday's 3-1 loss to the Boston Bruins at Scotiabank Place. The Senators need one point in their season finale at New Jersey on Saturday to assure themselves of finishing seventh, ahead of Washington or Florida -- one of whom will win the Southeast Division title.
Coach Paul MacLean isn't worried about who his team will face in the playoffs -- a seventh-place finish will send the Senators against Boston, while finishing eighth means a date with the conference-champion New York Rangers.
"We know we're starting out on the road," MacLean said. "We said, 'we want to play 82 games and see where we end up.' I don't think [there's any added stress to not knowing our opponent]. It's between two teams. I think we'll be fine."
Rookie Anton Khudobin made 44 saves for Boston in his first game as a Bruin and his first in the NHL since Jan. 18, 2011. Benoit Pouliot, Greg Zanon and Milan Lucic scored for the Bruins, while Jason Spezza had the lone goal for the Senators.
Khudobin was all smiles after the game, but admitted to having some nerves before the start.
"I got a couple shots in the first minutes of the game; the guys helped me a lot and [Marty] Turco talked to me and said, 'Let's go have some fun,'" Khudobin said. "I don't know why [the butterflies] didn't come earlier; I thought I would have them an hour, thirty minutes before, but I had them right before the start. But it goes away pretty fast."
Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson admitted that the team ran into a hot goaltender.
"He played good," Alfredsson said. "We did a good job generating chances, there's no question. They capitalized on our mistakes and did a good job in the neutral zone."
The Bruins took the lead 1-0 at 10:36 of the opening period when a bad pinch by Filip Kuba at the Boston blue line translated into a 2-on-1. Pouliot skated up the right wing, with Brian Rolston not far behind. Pouliot passed across the slot to Rolston, and who fed a return pass that Pouliot tipped past Ben Bishop's stick.
Ottawa outshot Boston 17-7 in the first period, but fell behind 2-0 at 3:51 of the second period, Zanon's slap shot was headed wide of the net, but as Bishop extended his glove, he tipped the puck and it fell into his net.
"I don't know what happened there," Bishop said. "When it went by [Filip] Kuba, I must've just missed it. I lost it for a second, then it went off the tip of my glove. It was one in a thousand."
Erik Karlsson, the NHL scoring leader among defensemen, nearly got his 20th goal of the season with 14 minutes left in the period when he rifled a shot from the point off a pass from Kuba, but Khudobin made the stop as the puck hit him in his chest.
The Senators were finally able to solve Khudobin at 13:56, when Spezza cut through the Bruins' defense and used Andrew Ference as a screen before beating the rookie with a wrist shot. It was Spezza's 34th goal of the season, tying his previous career-highs set in 2006-07 and 2007-08.
Karlsson missed another opportunity for his 20th goal midway through the third when Khudobin came out to play the puck, leaving a gaping net – the defenseman tried to get a shot off, but hit the puck with the heel of his stick blade.
Boston put the game away with 4:33 remaining when David Krejci's drop pass found Lucic down low for a shot past Bishop's stick. The goal was Lucic's 27th of the season. Newly signed rookie Torey Krug had an assist on the goal for his first NHL point.
In the final minute, the Senators were called for icing – MacLean took exception and his argument with the referee led to the official ejecting the coach from the game. When asked to explain what had happened, MacLean stood silent for several seconds. "I can't afford it," he said. "I thought it was an attainable pass; I thought the icing should have been waived off. I certainly thought [that icing] was similar to a lot of ones that were waved off."