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Sabres matchup crucial for Senators

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
They’re called four-point games and they couldn’t be more vital for the Ottawa Senators right now.

When the Senators face off against the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night at HSBC Arena, it’s an opportunity to take aim at a team that has exactly what Ottawa wants – the eighth and final playoff position in the Eastern Conference.

The Sabres (19-15-5) currently own 43 points, 11 more than the 12th-place Senators (13-18-6), with Ottawa holding two games in hand. All of which makes Tuesday’s matchup between the teams an extremely crucial one for the Sens.

“It is what it is right now,” Senators head coach Craig Hartsburg said following the team’s practice in Buffalo earlier this afternoon. “The players know the importance of each game. Right now, whoever we play, wherever we play, we’ve just got to play our best.

“The importance is obviously there for us to target teams we’ve got to catch and (the Sabres) are one of them.”

Despite his team’s predicament, Hartsburg said the mood remains upbeat. The Senators are 1-4-1 on their current eight-game road stretch while the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championship occupies Scotiabank Place.

“I think the mood, considering everything, is pretty positive among the coaches and players,” said Hartsburg. “We’ve got to continue to try to get points and tomorrow is the next day we have to worry about.”

The Senators will stick with Alex Auld (9-10-5) in net for a second straight game after what Hartsburg called a solid effort by the goaltender in Sunday’s 4-3 overtime loss to the New Jersey Devils.

“The last time we were here (on Oct. 27), Alex played real strong,” said Hartsburg. “(On Sunday night), I thought he played well. If we had won that game in overtime, it’s probably not even a question today. The last two goals that went in … I don’t think there is a goalie in the world that would have stopped (Jamie) Langenbrunner’s shot from there with that much time to tee it up. The overtime goal, he didn’t even see it.”

Around the boards

Hartsburg said it is “pretty doubtful” that the Senators will have defenceman Anton Volchenkov (upper body) back in the lineup against the Sabres. Fellow blueliner Filip Kuba (groin), who isn’t on this road trip, also remains sidelined … Ottawa wraps up its road trip on Thursday in Boston against the Bruins (7 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200) before returning home to face the New York Rangers on Saturday night at Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200). That contest marks the beginning of a stretch of five home games in six starts for the Senators.

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