It's been a long, sometimes hard road to get to this point.
Now, one more time, the Ottawa Senators have to summon some of that old magic away from home that initially helped thrust them into the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
"It's an important two games and we definitely want to come out of here with points," Senators centre Kyle Turris
said of a whirlwind trip through the Sunshine State that begins with tonight's matchup against the Lightning at Tampa Bay Times Forum (7 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200).
When the Senators roared into 2012 with an 8-1-1 streak, it included five straight wins on the road. Overall, Ottawa has produced 31 points away from home this season to date — just two less than it's earned in the much friendlier confines of Scotiabank Place.
Road success, it should be noted, is paramount for any team hoping to reach the post-season. Of the eight squads currently holding down playoff spots in the East, seven are playing better than .500 hockey away from home. The lone exception, the eighth-place Toronto Maple Leafs, aren't far off at 12-13-2.
"When you look at the standings, it's pretty tight," captain Daniel Alfredsson
said following the Senators' pre-game skate earlier today. "So you've got to get points wherever you can. We've done a pretty good job on the road overall, I think, and we'd like to continue that. We know Tampa struggles on the road, but they've been pretty good at home (15-8-2). It'll be a tough test tonight."
With a 6-2-2 run in their previous 10 outings, the Lightning are making a late push for the playoffs — they're currently eight points behind the Leafs – and boast a potent offence headed up by National Hockey League goal-scoring leader Steven Stamkos (37).
"Stamkos is arguably the best player in the league at any point in time," said Senators head coach Paul MacLean. "He's really playing the whole rink and he's playing well for them. (Marty) St. Louis and (Vincent) Lecavalier are still real good players, too."
MacLean suggested more consistency is something is looking for from his team tonight.
"Consistency is always something we’ve been working on," he said. "Every team struggles with it, I guess, and that’s no different than us. The last two games, we feel we’ve played pretty well and we want to make sure we come on the road and play a consistent game here tonight. Be ready at the start, consistently play the whole game and see where we are at the end."
While the Senators have surprised many by putting themselves where they are at the moment, they know elevating their game will be crucial to maintain that pace to the finish line.
"We’re going to have to up ourselves as the season winds down and, hopefully, we’ll bring our best in (the next) month and a half," said Alfredsson. "But we know it’s going to be really tough and we’re going to have to focus on what we can control — our effort, the way we play. If we play smart, we’ll give ourselves chances to win games."Around the boards
Tonight's game marks the first of two in which a group of 17 Senators fathers will get to see their sons play live. Even though they're not kids anymore, the players still want to put on a show for their dads. "We're looking forward to getting in a game or two here and trying to impress our dads," said Alfredsson, whose father Hasse made the trip from Sweden to join the group. "It's great to have this at this time of year, too, to kind of break the routine of normal day travel. It brings a little more energy and, hopefully, we’ll have a good showing for the old guys." Added defenceman Jared Cowen
: "This is where (his father, Brian) saw my first game, so it's kind of special for him to come back here again" ... Craig Anderson
gets the start in goal for Ottawa tonight, while Mathieu Garon will be between the pipes for Tampa ... Centre Zenon Konopka
and blueliner Brian Lee are tonight's Senators scratches ... The mini-road trip concludes Wednesday night in Sunrise, Fla., against the Panthers (7:30 p.m., NHL Centre Ice, Team 1200).