Earlier this season, the only questions for the Ottawa Senators seemed to be whether they could hang onto the top seed in the Eastern Conference and advance to their second straight Stanley Cup finals.
With two games remaining, the Senators are now wondering if they'll make the playoffs at all.
The struggling Senators hope to strengthen their tenuous hold on a playoff spot Thursday when they visit the Toronto Maple Leafs, who've beaten them four straight times.
Ottawa (42-30-8) has already lost out on a chance at the Northeast Division title, which Montreal clinched with a 3-0 win over the Senators on Tuesday.
|The Ottawa Senators are in a dog fight to make the playoffs and things won't get any easier as they face the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight, who they have lost four games in a row to. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Fred Chartrand)
Less than three months ago, the Senators had a 12-point lead over Montreal atop the division and a seven-point lead atop the East after a 29-10-4 start, and seemed certain to cruise to their 11th straight playoff berth.
Ottawa, though, is 13-20-4 since - 1-4-1 in its last six - and has been shut out in its last two games.
"Obviously we're frustrated and you look at the standing and wonder how and why it's happened, but it's too late to look back," Senators center Jason Spezza said. "You've got to look forward now."
The Senators are in sixth place in the East, but among five teams in a tight race for the final four playoff spots. Boston and Philadelphia are one point behind and have each played one fewer game than Ottawa, with Washington - which is also chasing Carolina for the Southeast Division title - two points back.
In order to secure a postseason spot, Ottawa will probably have to do something it hasn't in the last two games - score. The Senators have put 66 shots on goal in the last two games, but were blanked in back-to-back contests for the second time in five weeks.
In late February, they were shut out in consecutive games by Toronto and Boston - also their final two opponents of the season.
The Maple Leafs (36-33-11) have been eliminated from playoff contention, but a chance to potentially knock their provincial rivals from the postseason picture should provide plenty of motivation.
Toronto has blanked the Senators twice during its four-game winning streak in the series, but the Leafs could have trouble generating offense of their own. They learned Wednesday that they'll play their final two games without leading scorer Mats Sundin, who has missed six of the last eight contests with a groin injury.
Forward Nik Antropov's status is also unclear as he's missed time with a knee problem, but the Leafs erased a 4-2 deficit and beat Ottawa 5-4 without both players March 22.
Sundin and Antropov were sidelined Tuesday, when the Leafs had a chance to knock another rival from playoff contention. But Toronto lost 4-3 in a shootout to Buffalo.
The Leafs have dropped three of four overall.