|The playoff chase is over for captain Daniel Alfredsson and the Senators, but that doesn't mean there isn't anything to playoff for in their final six games (John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images).
The math finally caught up to the Ottawa Senators.
For the first time in 12 seasons, there will be no Stanley Cup playoff run for the Senators and their fans. Tuesday night's 5-2 road loss to the Florida Panthers, combined with the Montreal Canadiens' 4-1 triumph over the Chicago Blackhawks, officially closed the door on Ottawa's post-season chances for 2008-09.
"It's always disappointing when you lose a hockey game and when you lose your season (as well), it's doubly so or much more than that," Senators general manager Bryan Murray said earlier today. "At the beginning of the year, I never thought this would be the situation we'd be in with six games to go. Obviously, we've known for some time that it was going to be very, very difficult to make the playoffs but when it actually happens, it's hard."
But that doesn't mean the team intends to play out the string over the course of its final six regular-season games, starting with Thursday's matchup against the Eastern Conference-leading Bruins on Thursday night in Boston (7 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200).
"Mathematically, we've now been eliminated, so now it becomes a little more of a different mindset," head coach Cory Clouston said after putting his team through a 30-minute workout earlier today at Boston University. "You really have to readjust and understand that right now, you still have to play hard and you still have to play for pride and you have to play for your teammates.
"We want to make sure that we are finishing strong. We've done a lot of good things over the last eight weeks and we've got to make sure we're still competing and moving in the right direction and competing for each other."
Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson
insists it's a sentiment that still very much exists in the team's dressing room.
"That's life, right?" he said in musing about the earliest end to a Senators season since 1995-96, Alfredsson's rookie year. "You learn through adversity and you find out a lot about individuals. I think the way we have bounced back shows a lot of character. It would have been easy for us to just go through the motions down the stretch and wait until the season was over.
"But I think we've taken a lot of pride in the way we play and we're going to continue that down the stretch here, just for our own satisfaction more than anything."
The Senators put themselves squarely behind the 8-ball by going 1-6-1 during an eight-game road trip while the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championship occupied Scotiabank Place. That put Ottawa in a 15-point hole it could never make up.
"It's not like (missing the playoffs) is something that just snuck up on us," Alfredsson said of the deficit the Senators have faced since the beginning of the calendar year. "We've been trying to patch it up ever since. It was a lot of fun to put ourselves in a position where we were almost talking about having a chance again. For three or four weeks, there was almost no sign of it, so it was nice to get ourselves in that position.
"I think we rallied around it and the positive (signs) we had going, we would like to keep that going, and we're going to do everything we can to finish strong."
Murray, too, has liked what he's seen from the team since Clouston took over for the fired Craig Hartsburg on Feb. 2. The Senators have posted a 16-9-3 record under Clouston's direction.
"Without a doubt, in the latter part of this year, the players have played hard," said Murray. "I think the way we changed our approach to the game, the style of play ... the philosophy that Cory has brought in (offers) not just a glimmer of hope. I think there's really a lot of hope there.
"I think we've got some players coming that are real good. We have a core of a hockey team that competes with most (teams) in this league. It's a matter of maybe getting them in a little better form to begin the year and maybe making a couple of moves that will help them going forward."
One of those moves should happen fairly quickly. Murray said he hopes to clear up Clouston's status within a week of the Senators' season finale April 11 in Toronto against the Maple Leafs.
"It's always disappointing when you lose a hockey game and when you lose your season (as well), it's doubly so or much more than that. At the beginning of the year, I never thought this would be the situation we'd be in with six games to go. Obviously, we've known for some time that it was going to be very, very difficult to make the playoffs but when it actually happens, it's hard." - Bryan Murray
"We'll finish up our schedule and try to do it immediately ... make a decision on where we're going with Cory," he said.
There is plenty of thinking for this group of players to do as well.
"Every guy, to a man, has to look at himself first and see how he can contribute more and improve his game and get better throughout the summer," said veteran defenceman Chris Phillips
, who'll sit out the playoffs for the first time in his tenure with the Senators. "Let this be a motivational tool to work a little bit harder this summer to have a better start and then look at our team -- the style of play we've played in the last little while and how that's improved our results, and maybe get some lessons out of that."
In the meantime, they'll make the most of what is left of this season.
"We are a lot better than people thought we were two months ago," said Clouston. "The guys can feel good about that, but we still have six games (left). We still have to finish strong. We still have to keep moving in the right direction. There are reasons to play."Around the boards
After wrapping up their six-game road stretch in Boston, the Senators return home to face the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday night (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200). Fewer than 1,000 tickets remain for the game, while 1,750 are left for the Bruins' appearance at Scotiabank Place next Tuesday. Fewer than 1,500 tickets are left for the Senators' final home game of the season April 9 vs. the New Jersey Devils, which is also Fan Appreciation Night ... Defenceman Mattias Karlsson
of the Binghamton Senators has been named to the All-Rookie Team in the American Hockey League.