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Home stretch a 'challenge' for Senators

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Dany Heatley (left), Ryan Shannon (centre) and Chris Campoli chat along the boards during a break in Senators practice on Friday afternoon at Scotiabank Place. They'll face off against the Philadelphia Flyers on home ice on Saturday night.

The reality of their situation is finally sinking in.

But there is no quit in the Ottawa Senators, even if their playoff hopes have been extinguished for the first time in 12 seasons. And there will be no thought of mailing in the final five games of their regular season, a stretch which starts with the Philadelphia Flyers' appearance at Scotiabank Place on Saturday night (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).

Nothing to play for? Not in this dressing room.

"We all want to play this out hard," centre Mike Fisher said after the Senators practised on home ice for the first time in 10 days. "Some guys are playing for jobs and everyone's playing for pride. We don't want to be a team that gives up. We'll play it out as hard as we can."

Added captain Daniel Alfredsson: "You want to win every game you play. It's no different now."

What is different for the majority of this team is a season with no post-season attached to it. Of the 10 players on the current active roster who have worn a Senators jersey throughout their careers, only Alfredsson knows what it feels like to miss the playoffs. And that was way back in 1995-96, the only spring in which playoff hockey didn't come to Scotiabank Place (that's the year the building opened).

"You're not really used to it," admitted Senators centre Jason Spezza. "At this time of the year, you're used to watching the standings and watching (other) games. It's going to be a different feeling. It's always tough when you lose to watch the hockey games, so this year is going to be even tougher, not being in the playoffs."

Senators head coach Cory Clouston believes that's a realization that doesn't always hit home immediately. But he feels his team is over that emotional hump now and ready to give its best effort right through the April 11 finale in Toronto against the Maple Leafs.

"When all of a sudden, mathematically, you're not in the playoffs, there is an emotional letdown," he said. "Even though it was a distant goal and it wasn't going to be easily attainable, still, there's a switch there you almost have to (flick), where you come to terms with the fact that you're not in the playoffs and you still have to play hard for five or six games.

"I don't know if it's going to be hard but it's going to be a challenge. We've talked to our guys and (told them) they're going to have to show their character because of that.... It will be a challenge to keep our focus and continue to play hard and show our character. We want to continue to build momentum for the off-season and for next year."

"You're not really used to it. At this time of the year, you're used to watching the standings and watching (other) games. It's going to be a different feeling. It's always tough when you lose to watch the hockey games, so this year is going to be even tougher, not being in the playoffs." - Jason Spezza
Spezza, who plays his 400th career National Hockey League game on Saturday night, insists it's the right attitude for the Senators to have down the stretch.

"If you're not ready, you're going to get hurt," he said. "You're going to get taken advantage of and you're not going to look real good. You get into a routine and you know how to get yourself ready (to play). You just have to stick with it, regardless of whether you're out of it.

"We're going to be here for the next nine days, so you might as well win games and feel good about yourself and build toward next season."

Alfredsson agreed, saying "whatever you do, if you do it halfway, it's not as much fun. It's just a matter of emotionally and mentally getting prepared before the games and, once you do, you throw one hit and you're into it. I don't see that as being a problem."

Senators lose out in Bozak derby

University of Denver forward Tyler Bozak agreed to contract terms with the Toronto Maple Leafs this morning, ending the Senators' hopes of landing the highly coveted college free agent. More than 20 NHL teams reportedly had expressed an interest in the undrafted Regina native, a current teammate of Ottawa defence prospect Patrick Wiercioch.

"Tyler made himself into a player there, a good player," said Senators general manager Bryan Murray, whose team was one of the frontrunners to land the 23-year-old Bozak's services. "Our interest was real. We were very keen on him and we were disappointed that we didn't get him.

"I told him I thought we had a great opportunity for him here. Obviously, he feels Toronto is a better opportunity and he can be more important on that team."

Around the boards

As has been his routine, Clouston will wait until tomorrow to announce his goaltending starter against the Flyers. He does expect to ice a lineup "similar" to the one he used in Thursday's loss to the Bruins, though that won't be finalized until game day, either ... Fewer than 1,000 tickets remain for Saturday's matchup with the Flyers, while 1,750 are left for Tuesday's visit by the Bruins and 1,500 are still available for the home finale Thursday against the New Jersey Devils.

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