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Lessons still coming the hard way for Senators

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
The lessons, it would appear, won't stop coming for the Ottawa Senators anytime soon.

Latest case in point — Sunday's matchup with the Panthers in Sunrise, Fla., in which the Senators exited the first period seemingly in full control of matters with a two-goal lead, but wound up on the short end of a 4-2 decision.

On deck next for Ottawa, currently riding a two-game losing streak, is another road test Tuesday against an opponent desperate for victories to stay alive in the Eastern Conference playoff race. That would be the Tampa Bay Lightning (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200), who've won four straight behind red-hot sniper Steven Stamkos to edge within two points of a post-season berth.

Senators head coach Paul MacLean knows he'll need more finish out of his team, which couldn't regain its momentum Sunday after surrendering a pair of goals to the Southeast Division-leading Panthers in the opening three minutes of the second period. The result ended Ottawa's nine-game winning streak over Florida that dated back more than two seasons.

"We're still a team that, as we've always said, is still building a foundation and this is part of the building blocks," MacLean said following Sunday's setback. "You're going to have stumbling blocks and be taking steps backwards when you think you should be taking steps forward. Sometimes, it takes steps backward (to learn).

"We've said that adversity is sometimes a hard teacher, but usually the things you learn from adversity are the things that stay with you."

Most important of all, MacLean said, is for the Senators to continue to work as a unit when times get tough. It's the only way, he added, for them to win such battles.

"We just need to play harder and more together as group, as opposed to (being individuals)," said MacLean, who expressed disappointment at the Senators' compete level over the finalt two periods against Florida. "When things get hard, the group has to come together and work together to come up with solutions and not become individuals who try to do things by themselves.

"When you do that, it just leads to frustration."

Added forward Chris Neil: "We've just got to stick with the game plan. If we stray from it, that's what happens — we lose."

Given the tightness of the playoff chase with less than five weeks to go in the season, the stakes figure to get higher each and every night. After Tuesday night's game in Tampa, the Senators return to home to face the Eastern Conference-leading New York Rangers on Thursday (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200), before facing the Buffalo Sabres — who have charged back into playoff contention — on Saturday (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).

Even though the Senators are seven points clear of the ninth-place Washington Capitals at the moment, defenceman Erik Karlsson said now isn't the time to take their foot off the gas.

"We're at the point in the season right now where we want to win every game," he said. "We've got to take every game as a playoff game right now."

Around the boards

Binghamton Senators callup Rob Klinkhammer was a force in his debut appearance with the big club on Sunday, providing an effective screen for Jared Cowen's first-period goal and producing a game-high seven hits. "I thought he played real well for us," said MacLean. "He did a real good job on the first goal for us and (showed) himself real well. I thought he was one of our best players." ... Senators centre Jason Spezza (28-44-72) and Karlsson (15-51-66) hold down the fourth and seventh positions, respectively, in the NHL scoring race. If Karlsson stays in the top 10, he'll be the first league blueliner to do so since Paul Coffey in the lockout-shortened season of 1994-95.

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