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'Freak' practice mishap sidelines Neil for finale

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Senators forward Chris Neil won't play Saturday's season finale against the Devils. He's being kept home for evaluatiion after crashing into the end boards during practice today (Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).

It wasn't exactly a good Friday for Chris Neil and the Senators.

Near the end of what had been a generally light final practice of the regular season, the rugged Ottawa forward crashed into the end boards at the Bell Sensplex during a shootout drill. After staying down for several minutes with his concerned teammates looking on, Neil's face was a mask of pain as he left the ice gingerly with assistance from Jason Spezza and Zack Smith.

Afterward, Senators head coach Paul MacLean said Neil is staying in Ottawa to be evaluated by team doctors and didn't make the trip to Newark, N.J., where the Senators close out their regular season on Saturday against the Devils (3 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).

MacLean added it was much too soon to speculate on the severity of the situation. But there is no doubt that, with the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs less than a week away, losing Neil would be a huge blow for the Senators. He is one of the team's true heart-and-soul players who brings a physical presence that would be difficult to replace. The 32-year-old winger has also been one of Ottawa's most consistent performers.

"(Neil) is one of the physical guys on our team and brings a physical forecheck," said MacLean. "He's a veteran player who's been there before and we would certainly miss him. But we're not going to speculate on it right now ... we don't really have anything to speculate about. But he's an important player for us."

The latter sentiment clearly runs throughout the Senators dressing room.

"Neiler's been great for us all year," said Spezza. "He's a real impactful guy. He doesn't play a ton of minutes but when he does, his presence is felt on the ice. He can be intimidating to other teams' defencemen, finishes his checks and does a lot of things that are intangible that go a long way toward helping your hockey club.

"He definitely makes us a better team when he's playing well ... He did crash a little harder than guys normally do in practice. There was definitely that quick gasp of air, and it looks like it’s not too bad. Hopefully, we’re fortunate."

Added forward Nick Foligno: "He's a physical guy and he's also pretty skilled. He's a heart-and-soul kind of guy and a worker. He's a perfect playoff guy and, hopefully, he'll be back and ready to go (for us)."

Around the boards

The Senators sit in seventh place in the Eastern Conference heading into the final day of the regular schedule, but could slip to eighth if the following happens: Ottawa loses to New Jersey in regulation, the Washington Capitals beat the New York Rangers and the Florida Panthers pick up at least one point on home ice against the Carolina Hurricanes. In that scenario, Florida would win the Southeast Division and earn the third seed, the Capitals would move up to seventh and face the No. 2 Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoffs, and the Senators would slide to eighth and match up with the East-leading Rangers ... The absence of Neil means at least one lineup change for the game against the Devils, but MacLean said he'll wait until Saturday to make that call ... Craig Anderson will make the start in goal, while New Jersey is countering with the venerable veteran Martin Brodeur.

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