|Dany Heatley (left), Daniel Alfredsson and the Senators had plenty to smile about after a road trip that produced nine of a possible 10 points (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images).
They're weary and no doubt happy to finally be home again.
But the Ottawa Senators will wake up sometime later today knowing they brought home much more than nine vital points from a five-game road trip that might indeed signal a turning point in their fortunes this season.
With a stretch of nine home games in 10 now awaiting them, the Senators believe more than ever that a playoff berth is still within their reach. Even if, at 22-25-9, they still have a 13-point mountain to conquer to achieve that goal.
"I think it's possible," forward Dany Heatley said after the Senators dropped a 3-2 overtime decision to the Colorado Avalanche in Denver on Tuesday night – the only blemish on a gruelling road swing that started with four straight wins. "To get nine out of 10 (points) is big for us. We've just got to keep this thing rolling. We all believe there's still a chance."
Since taking over the team on Feb. 2, head coach Cory Clouston has injected a necessary jolt of confidence into a group that appeared more likely to contend for the No. 1 draft pick than a post-season berth. The Senators are 5-1-2 under Clouston but, more importantly, are displaying the kind of hockey they'll need for any sort of playoff drive.
"There are a lot of little things we've improved on," said Clouston. "The effort has been there every night and things are starting to come. The confidence level has really improved with this group of guys and they realize what they're capable of right now.
"We've put ourselves in a position where, if we a give a real strong push, anything is possible. The success of this road trip has enabled us to think that way."
Centre Mike Fisher said the gains the Senators have brought home with them are "huge," and not just in terms of the results on the scoreboard.
"To look at this road trip and see what we've done and how far we've come ... the progress is very good," he said. "I think we can still be a better team and parts of (Tuesday's) game showed that. But we're happy. We know we still have a lot of games to play and if we continue to play like that, you never know. We're playing more like a good team and feeling good.
"I think it's possible. To get nine out of 10 (points) is big for us. We've just got to keep this thing rolling. We all believe there's still a chance." - Dany Heatley
"We know what we're capable of now and what type of team we are. We're finding ways to win and we're excited."
Now they've got to carry that over to a long stretch of games at Scotiabank Place, starting with Thursday's visit by Mats Sundin and the Vancouver Canucks (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200). Then it's a big Hockey Day in Canada matchup with the Canadiens in Montreal on Saturday (3 p.m., CBC. Team 1200), followed by a run of eight straight home games.
"We've got a few guys banged up and we need a rest (today)," said Clouston, who gave the players today off after their early morning arrival home from Colorado. "Then we're right back it, so it doesn't get any easier."
Around the boards
Clouston thought he was done with crazy road trips when he moved up to the big leagues. Guess again. "That's an American Hockey League road trip," he said about an five-game, seven-night odyssey that took the Senators through three time zones. "I didn't realize they had those types of road trips in the NHL." ... Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson
took a puck off the face Tuesday night and briefly left the game. But he's hopeful his pursuit of a 900th career point can continue on Thursday. "I'll be sore (today)," said Alfredsson, who's still one point shy of his next milestone ... Fewer than 1,500 tickets remain for Thursday's game.