The sheer mathematics of it all suggests it indeed can happen tonight.
That the Ottawa Senators, with a victory over the Montreal Canadiens at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., A-Channel, Team 1200), can secure a playoff berth if the Washington Capitals also fall at home to the Carolina Hurricanes.
But the Senators know it’s on them to take care of their own business now. Rack up a pair of wins in their final three games this week, and they’ll punch a ticket to the post-season without anybody else’s help. The kind of assistance, head coach/general manager Bryan Murray said, that isn’t guaranteed to be there anyways.
“You can’t rely on anybody else not winning,” Murray said after the Senators’ pre-game skate Tuesday morning. “You’ve got to do what you have to do for yourself. There are no favours in this business, as we’ve found out over the second half of this year, and you’ve got to be prepared to compete.”
So while the sellout throng at Scotiabank Place will, no doubt, do a lot of scoreboard watching tonight, the Senators instead plan to keep the focus on getting their game in order. It’s something that, veteran forward Martin Lapointe said, can get them through this week and also help them prosper further in the weeks to come.
“We still have control. We control our destiny and it’s about the guys here,” said Lapointe.
“Doing the little things to help you win games. It doesn’t matter who scores goals. It’s about commitment and believing in the system and playing the system right. And when we do that, we’re a good team. When we don’t, we’re a mediocre team.
“We all know we have a lot of talent, but we have to do the hard things – (winning) the battles on the walls, getting the puck out, getting the puck in deep, winning faceoffs. All those little things that make you win in the playoffs, we have to do that now.”
Even without injured captain Saku Koivu, the Canadiens present a formidable challenge tonight. When the teams last met eight days ago in Montreal, the Habs rolled to a 7-1 lead through two periods en route to a 7-5 victory.
But the Senators, who own a 5-2-0 record against the Canadiens this season, know they need to be the ones setting the pace from the opening whistle tonight.
“That’s the thing we’ve got to focus on,” said captain Daniel Alfredsson
. “Be the team that takes charge, make things happen and don’t wait for a good break or anything.”
Centre Mike Fisher said nothing short of a top effort will be necessary to get the job done against the Canadiens.
“Tonight’s not going to be easy by any means but, hopefully, it’ll bring out the best in us,” he said. “We’ve got to worry about our own game here.
“We’re under the gun right now and we need to win here, and that’s pressure that we’re going to embrace. (Let’s) come together as a team and start having fun again.”
Murray is hopeful the urgency of the situation will help provide an extra spark against a team the Senators could well face in the opening round of the playoffs, given the tightness of the Eastern Conference standings.
“I hope that in our building and against a team like Montreal… we’ll rally the troops enough that it will be an interesting game throughout,” he said. “We know it’s going to be a close game. We’ve got to handle the pressure in the last minutes of games. We know it’ll be real close and real competitive, and we’ve got to find a way.”Around the boards
Forward Randy Robitaille draws back into the lineup against the Habs, with rookie Jesse Winchester
the odd man out … Martin Gerber (29-16-4) makes his 15th straight start in goal … The Canadiens can officially clinch the Northeast Division title with a point tonight … Fewer than 50 tickets remain for the game.