OTTAWA - The Ottawa Senators offered a tip of the cap to a former coach on Friday night.
While the Senators were falling 2-1 at Scotiabank Place to the Boston Bruins in a game in which one point would have clinched a post-season berth for Ottawa, Jacques Martin's Florida Panthers helped them out by knocking off the Carolina Hurricanes 4-3.
The results allowed the Bruins to clinch a playoff spot for the first time since 2004 and gave the Senators, despite losing for the fourth time in five games in their final regular-season contest, an automatic spot regardless of what happens the rest of the weekend.
"Months ago, we said it we could get to 93, 94 points, we'd be in. I just told the players, getting 94 points is not backing in," Ottawa general manager and coach Bryan Murray said before giving kudos to Martin, who led the Senators to their first playoff appearance in 1997 and they haven't missed out since.
"In spite of all the stuff that's been said and the way we've played lately, we got 94 points and we deserve to be in. Jacques Martin did a heck of a job for us tonight."
Zdeno Chara and Phil Kessel scored and Tim Thomas stopped 17 shots in goal for Boston (41-28-12), which ended a two-game winless slide with the victory before a sold-out crowd of 20,232 at Scotiabank Place.
"It's fantastic. It's huge," said Thomas, who's never made the playoffs at the NHL level. "All of our games have been so important lately and this one was the most. It's great for the team (to make the playoffs) and it feels pretty good for myself."
The Bruins moved up into a tie with the Senators (43-31-8) for sixth place in the Eastern Conference, but still have one game to play and could overtake Ottawa.
"When we started, our No. 1 goal was to make the playoffs and to accomplish that is a credit to those guys in the dressing room," Boston coach Claude Julien said. "We faced a lot of adversity this year and to accomplish that is great, but we've got to finish the last game with a sense of purpose." It was a case of two happy locker-rooms after the game.
The news out of Carolina was the lone bright spot on a depressing day in the nation's capital.
Earlier in the day, the Senators announced they'd be without captain Daniel Alfredsson and centre Mike Fisher for the foreseeable future after they were injured in Thursday's night's 8-2 victory over the Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre.
Alfredsson suffered upper-body and knee injuries when he was hit by Toronto's Mark Bell. Fisher went knee-on-knee with Bell and both he and Alfredsson are expected to be out for weeks, missing the start of Ottawa's playoffs.
"It's a good feeling, there's been some ups and downs this year, but we're in, it's a new season," Senators left-winger Dany Heatley said.
Antoine Vermette had Ottawa's lone goal and Martin Gerber, starting his 17th straight game in net, finished with 25 saves.
The absence of Alfredsson meant Jason Spezza centred the top line with Heatley on his left wing and Martin Lapointe on the right. Meanwhile, Vermette centred the second line in Fisher's absence with left-winger Cory Stillman and Shean Donovan.
The Senators struggled to break down the Bruins - managing just six shots in each period - but they'll now have time before the playoffs start to try and create some chemistry.
"We've had a hard time against these guys with them in the lineup, so I don't want to judge too early," Spezza said.
Ex-Senator Chara, who was booed every time he touched the puck by the Scotiabank Place crowd still unhappy with him for signing with Boston as a free agent in the summer of 2006, got the ball rolling for the Bruins.
After a scoreless first period, he wired a shot past Gerber from the top of the faceoff circle at the 6:39 mark of the second and, early in the third, ex-Senator Peter Schaefer intercepted the puck in the Ottawa end and set up Kessel to make it 2-0.
However, while the Bruins were beating the Senators, the Panthers were putting the finishing touches on their victory over the Hurricanes, allowing Ottawa to gain a post-season berth via the back door.
Vermette took advantage of a turnover by Bruins defenceman Dennis Wideman to spoil Thomas' shutout bid at the just past the midway point of the third, but it didn't matter in the end.
The Senators can rest easy knowing they've avoided a massive collapse after leading the Eastern Conference for most of the season and coming down to their final game to clinch a playoff spot.
"It's nice to know we're in the playoffs and not have to watch the scoreboard tomorrow," Spezza said.
Notes: In addition to Alfredsson and Fisher, the Senators were without centre Chris Kelly (leg injury), while defenceman Luke Richardson and forwards Brian McGrattan and Jesse Winchester were scratched. Left-winger Nick Foligno was recalled before the game from Binghamton of the AHL. Ottawa sold out 38 of 41 home dates this season, including the past 34 games at Scotiabank Place, and average attendance at the 19,153-seat building was 19,821, eclipsing the franchise record of 19,474 fans per game in 2005-06. ... The Bruins wrap up their season at home Saturday night against the Buffalo Sabres. Boston played without right-winger Chuck Kobasew (leg), centre Marc Savard (back) and defencemen Andrew Ference (leg) and Bobby Allen (back).