|Dany Heatley and the Senators begin the final six-game stretch of their season tonight in Boston against the Eastern Conference-leading Bruins (Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images).
Six games to go and it's the end of the show.
But it won't exactly be the easiest of rides for the Ottawa Senators as they wind down their 2008-09 season over the next 10 days. Five of the six remaining opponents on the Senators schedule are sitting in playoff positions right now, while the April 11 season finale in Toronto against the arch-rival Maple Leafs carries its own brand of emotion.
Needless to say, this is a team that will have its hands full with the likes of the Eastern Conference-leading Boston Bruins, whom the Senators face twice before the season is done – tonight at TD Banknorth Garden in Beantown (7 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200) and Tuesday at Scotiabank Place. There are also matchups Saturday at home against the Philadelphia Flyers, Monday in Montreal versus the Canadiens and April 9 at Scotiabank Place against the New Jersey Devils in Ottawa's last home test of the season.
"It's an opportunity for them to play hard and to play well," Senators head coach Cory Clouston said after today's pre-game skate in Boston when asked about the daunting final stretch for a team that won't be part of the post-season party for the first time in 12 seasons. "We know we're playing against tough opponents, not just tonight but over the next four or five games. It's a good measuring stick (for us) as well."
That being said, Clouston and Co. are eager for the test.
"We're looking forward to the last six games," he said. "We want to show what we're able to do."
There is also the chance to set the tone for the off-season and a new campaign starting in the fall.
"It's an opportunity for them to play hard and to play well. We know we're playing against tough opponents, not just tonight but over the next four or five games. It's a good measuring stick (for us) as well." - Cory Clouston
"We believe we've turned the team around to a large extent right now," said Clouston, who has directed the Senators to a 16-9-3 record since taking over the head-coaching duties. "We obviously aren't in the position we wanted to be in, but we feel we've definitely (pointed) the team in the right direction. We've showed where there are some weaknesses and we've identified our strengths, and that allows us to move forward."
The Senators are 0-3-1 against the Bruins this season and expect another bruising battle against a rival that has beaten them six straight times going back to 2007-08.
"When they play their game, they're physical in all areas," Clouston said of the Bruins. "At the nets, in the corners, on the forecheck... They make it tough for you to penetrate the 'red zone' in front of their goaltender. So we know it's going to be a battle."
Around the boardsAlex Auld
(13-17-6) gets the start in goal against his former team. Auld has a 3-1-1 career mark against the Bruins with a 2.75 goals-against average ... No lineup changes are planned for tonight, which would make Christoph Schubert a healthy scratch ... Senators prospect Louie Caporusso
, a University of Michigan forward, is one of eight finalists for the Hobey Baker Award, presented annually to the top player in U.S. college hockey ... Fewer than 1,000 tickets are left for Saturday's visit by the Flyers (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200, Team 1200), while 1,750 are left for the Bruins' appearance at Scotiabank Place next Tuesday.