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Sens' cardiac kids keep enjoying the winning ride

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators

What a ride it continues to be for the capital's cardiac kids.

Even if they'd sooner do without the heart-stopping drama that has made the Ottawa Senators one of the National Hockey League's most exciting acts in the last week.

"We'd obviously like to close out games a little bit earlier," a grinning Nick Foligno said on the morning after his goal with just 2.5 seconds to play lifted the Senators to a dramatic 4-3 triumph over the Florida Panthers at Scotiabank Place.

That result came just five days after the Senators played a similar game of beat the clock on home ice against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Ottawa trailed that one 3-2 in the late going, yet scored twice in the final 36 seconds to pull out an improbable win. Milan Michalek notched the game-winner last Saturday with a mere 4.7 seconds to go.

In between those buzzer beaters, the Senators squandered a 2-0 lead Tuesday night in Raleigh, N.C., against the Hurricanes, but rebounded to prevail 3-2 following a shootout. With four straight wins in the bank, Ottawa has bounced back from a 1-5-0 start to reach the .500 mark for the first time since November 2010. And it's a team riding a wave of confidence into Saturday's matinee matchup with the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden (3 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).

"We're believing in ourselves a little more and we're believing in the game plan," said centre Jason Spezza, whose team-leading 13 points also rank him in a tie for third among all NHL scorers. "And I think you have to win a few games to have the confidence to stick to it and not veer away from what you've been doing.

"When you're losing, you try to do too much sometimes trying to make things happen. Now that we've won some games, we have confidence that if we stick with it, we'll get rewarded and that's been the chase."

And when you're confidence, you make the kind of breath-taking play blueliner David Rundblad conjured up in the dying seconds to start the sequence that led to Foligno's game-winner — a beauty of a deke and high backhand over a diving Florida netminder Jacob Markstrom that kept the Senators' roll going for another night.

"When you get off to the start we did (this season), especially giving up a lot of goals early on, you become hesitant," said Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson. "You're not as aggressive and it showed in our play. I think guys are more in tune and things are happening more naturally. And you get some confidence pulling some wins together."

Senators head coach Paul MacLean looks at his team and sees a group achieving exactly what he's hoped for since the day he accepted the job back in June.

"I see this team improving a little bit every day, just the way we talked at training and when I took the job," he said before the Senators made their way to New York earlier this afternoon. "We're building a foundation for something down the road, when we're going to be good, and doing a little bit more every day.

"We've seen this team get better, we've seen it be bad, we've seen it improve on that and show great character in learning how to win and what it takes to win. Those are all very good building blocks to build this foundation we're talking about. With every one of those blocks we (add), it gets a little more stable. I don't think it's the Great Wall of China yet, but they're all positive signs."

Around the boards

MacLean doubts he'll mess with his current winning hand and expects to ice the same lineup against the Rangers on Saturday. That means another start between the pipes for Craig Anderson, who's been rock solid of late, allowing only nine goals in his last four outings ... Foligno appreciated the opportunity to be on the ice with the game on line Thursday night. "You're not going to score every time with 2.5 seconds left, but just to be out there in important parts of the game is every player's dream," he said  ... Forward Bobby Butler (groin) is moving closer to returning to game action. "He needs some more skating time and conditioning time," said MacLean. "But if we needed him to play, he would play." ... The Senators are back home at Scotiabank Place on Sunday night, welcoming the provincial rival Toronto Maple Leafs for the first time this season (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200).

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