|After blanking the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday, Brian Elliott will be back between the pipes tonight when the Senators face the Florida Panthers (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images).
Their own playoff chances have been all but mathematically extinguished.
But the Ottawa Senators know that kind of incentive will still very much exist on the other side of the ice tonight when they face off against the Florida Panthers at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Fla. (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200).
The Panthers (37-28-11) stand ninth in the Eastern Conference, one point behind the Montreal Canadiens, as they attempt to end a nine-year playoff drought. For the Senators (33-32-10), meanwhile, the magic number is down to four – as in, that's the number of points the Canadiens need to eliminate Ottawa from playoff contention. A regulation Sens loss tonight, combined with a Montreal victory over the Chicago Blackhawks, could make it all official this evening.
Senators head coach Cory Clouston said none of that should be in his team's mind as they prepare to face the Panthers on the heels of weekend games against a pair of playoff also-rans, the Atlanta Thrashers (6-3 loss) and Tampa Bay Lightning (3-0 victory). Tonight's game presents an opportunity for a road sweep of the National Hockey League teams based in the Sunshine State.
"Every team responds and reacts differently," Clouston said earlier today. "You can play a team like Atlanta, which isn't in the playoff hunt, and they're playing as well as any team in the league right now. They're playing with confidence and they're playing loose, so they're a very dangerous opponent.
"Sometimes, you can play a team that's right in the mix of things but is a little more uptight and tense. Each game just presents different challenges, so we have to worry about ourselves and not necessarily with how other teams are going to play ... whether they're going to come out with aggressiveness or tightness."
"Sometimes, you can play a team that's right in the mix of things but is a little more uptight and tense. Each game just presents different challenges, so we have to worry about ourselves and not necessarily with how other teams are going to play." - Cory Clouston
Still, the Senators are very aware of what's at stake on the Florida side.
"For us, it's a good matchup with a team that is really, really desperate and to see if we can match their intensity," said Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson
. "If we do, we will win and that's the task for us, to get ready mentally."
Clouston acknowledges that's no easy chore at the end of a long late-season road trip.
"Sometimes, at this time of the year, that's the biggest hurdle. You've got to fight through fatigue," he said. "If you can kind of blank all that out and be prepared and focused, for sure, that's what helps you at this time of year."Around the boards
Fresh off his first career NHL shutout, Brian Elliott (16-6-3) makes the start in goal tonight ... No other lineup changes against the Panthers, meaning Christoph Schubert will again be a healthy scratch ... Ryan Shannon has scored goals in four straight games for Ottawa ... The Senators wrap up their six-game road stretch Thursday in Boston against the Bruins (7 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200). Then they're back at home on Saturday night, when the Philadelphia Flyers visit Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).