|Mike Fisher missed today's practice with a lower body injury but is expected to be in the lineup Saturday, when the Senators face the Pittsburgh Penguins (Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).
There is no surrender in the Ottawa Senators dressing room.
Even with their playoff hopes clinging by a mathematical thread, this is a group that doesn't plan to pack away its competitive juices anytime before the regular-season final April 11 in Toronto against the Maple Leafs. At least not if head coach Cory Clouston has any say in the matter – and most definitely, he does.
"I think you still prepare the same way," Clouston said after his team's 50-minute practice earlier today at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. "You prepare to win the game.
"My focus doesn't change. Everyone looks at the big picture, but a coach looks at today's practice. That's what we wanted to do. We're trying to get ready for tomorrow's game and that's really all we're looking at. The end results, whatever they may be, are going to take care of themselves. That's what we want our players to do. We want them to prepare for tomorrow afternoon's game."
Thursday night's 5-3 loss to the Bruins in Boston offered up an example of the fight Clouston wants to see from his charges. The Senators dug themselves a 3-0 hole in the first period but by the middle of the third, it was a much tighter 4-3 affair, with Ottawa pushing for the equalizer until Phil Kessel's empty-net goal in the final minute sealed the deal for the Eastern Conference leaders.
"As you saw last night, we don't want to and we're not ready to throw in the towel on any game," said Clouston. "I thought our guys battled back very hard... We want to compete. We still like our game. We still want to move the team forward. The guys want to compete hard and they want to win every night."
"My focus doesn't change. Everyone looks at the big picture, but a coach looks at today's practice. That's what we wanted to do. We're trying to get ready for tomorrow's game and that's really all we're looking at. The end results, whatever they may be, are going to take care of themselves." - Cory Clouston
With just 15 games left in their season, the Senators still find themselves in 12th place in the Eastern Conference standings, 14 points beyond a playoff position. But there is still an opportunity to set the proper tone for the off-season and a fresh start in 2009-10.
"There are many things you can look at," Clouston said when asked about his team's mental approach over the final four weeks of the season. "You look at personal pride, team pride and wanting to play hard for the guy beside you. There's nothing like putting your equipment on knowing that everybody is going to be working hard. There's nothing worse than knowing there are going to be guys taking the night off.
"We don't have that (problem) right now. Last night was a perfect example. It was our third game in four nights and we'd played the night before. But the last 10 or 12 minutes, we didn't throw the towel in. We tried to battle right to the very end. To me, that shows a lot of character."Around the boards
Clouston and Penguins coach Dan Bylsma were rivals in the American Hockey League earlier this season. Now they're both behind National Hockey League benches. "(His) teams are always well prepared, work really hard and play with a lot of structure," Clouston said of his Pittsburgh counterpart. "Definitely, he's a guy that I respect as a coach." ... Centre Mike Fisher (lower body) sat out today's practice but is expected to play Saturday (3 p.m., CBC, Team 1200). Defenceman Filip Kuba
(flu) should be good to go, along with fellow blueliner Anton Volchenkov, who also took the day off today. "He's got about a thousand bumps and bruises," said Clouston. "We don't know which one is keeping him out of practice today but he should be ready for (Saturday)." ... The Penguins are the NHL's hottest team with an 8-1-1 mark over their past 10 games ... Fewer than 1,000 tickets remain for Tuesday's appearance by the Buffalo Sabres at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200), while 500 are left for the Montreal Canadiens' visit on Thursday (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200).