And so, as improbable as it might seem, it has come down to this.
Three games left in the Ottawa Senators’ regular season. Three games still to play to determine their post-season fate.
It’s not the playoffs, but it’s close enough.
Must-win? As cliché as it sounds, yes, that time has indeed arrived for a Senators team that still needs three points to nail down a playoff berth for the 11th straight season.
“Yeah, that’s the way we’ve got to approach it now, for sure,” veteran defenceman Wade Redden said after the team’s practice Monday morning at Scotiabank Place. “A week from now, it’s going to be do-or-die (in the playoffs) and we’ve got to (play that way).
“But that’s when you’re at your best, when you get out there and lay it all on the line, and that’s what we have to do.”
The scenario couldn’t be more frenzied in the Eastern Conference. The Senators currently hold down fifth place with 92 points – only one back of the New Jersey Devils, but just one better than the New York Rangers, Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers. Still alive and very much breathing are the ninth-place Washington Capitals with 88 points, three home games remaining and a 4-0 season-series edge over Ottawa.
Clearly, there’s virtually no margin for error now for the Senators, who aim to get the surge to the post-season started Tuesday night at Scotiabank Place against the Northeast Division-leading Montreal Canadiens (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200). Following that are a road date Thursday in Toronto, then the home and season finale Friday vs. the Bruins.
“We’ve got three games left,” said forward Dany Heatley. “All huge games for us, all playoff-type games. We realize the importance of these games, we realize what’s at stake. We’re ready to go and we’re excited to get going against Montreal tomorrow night.”
Despite their current predicament, Senators defenceman Chris Phillips
said staying positive will be a key to getting the necessary results this week to secure a post-season berth.
“It has been frustrating,” he said. “But we’ve got to try to put that in the past, as hard as it is, be positive out on the ice and just have fun. Just work hard and let good things happen and fall into place.
“We’re all pretty confident in the talent the guys have here, but we have to get back to basics and work hard and then the talent level will take over from there.”
Added centre Jason Spezza
: “I think it’s just important that we start playing well and not worry every time we’re scored against or every time a mistake is made… We’ve always believed that if we play well, we’re a good hockey club, so it’s no time to panic.”
While head coach/general manager Bryan Murray never imagined his team would be dealt this hand after a record-breaking 13-1-0 start, he said it’s now a matter of playing the cards as they’re currently laid out.
“We’d like to not be in this position but we are and we have to handle it,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about. There’s no sense getting in the playoffs if you can’t win some games to get (there). So let’s do it. Let’s figure out a way here to play in the next three games and get into the playoffs. That’s what we have to do.”
Around the boards
Forward Cory Stillman (leg bruise) sat out practice today and Murray said it isn’t likely he’ll suit up against the Canadiens. “He’s day-to-day, but tomorrow’s not one of those days,” he said … Captain Daniel Alfredsson
was given a day off the practice ice. “He just needed an extra day,” said Murray. “He’s been, as we know, battling some different things. We just wanted to give him another day to rest up, heal up, whatever it may be and hopefully he can skate in the morning and play tomorrow night.” … Martin Gerber (29-16-4) makes his 15th straight start tomorrow night.