|Jason Spezza and the Senators have reason for optimism as they begin a five-game road trip Wednesday night in Raleigh, N.C., against the Hurricanes (Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).
They are boarding the plane today with a little more hope in their hearts, even if it's still tempered in just the right way with a dose of cold, hard reality.
As the Ottawa Senators head south to Raleigh, N.C., today to begin a five-game road trip with their season in the balance, they do it with renewed playoff hopes. While their standing – 11th in the Eastern Conference – hasn't changed much recently, the gap between the Senators and a post-season berth has narrowed considerably to seven points. That's the closest Ottawa has been to the playoffs since well before Christmas.
Even so, the Senators know full well what has gotten them to this point, what has provided the catalyst for the current 9-1-0 run that has fans around the capital beginning to dream about the improbable. Namely, there is only one game and one opponent that matters and that is the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday night at RBC Center (7 p.m., TSN2, Team 1200).
"It's taken a lot of hard work to put ourselves in this position but we can't look backward, we've got to look forward," Senators head coach Cory Clouston said after the team's final workout in Ottawa until this 10-day road trip ends on April 3. "We've got to look toward tomorrow night's game and understand what's given us success and make sure we continue to do that.
"Ten games ago, no one believed we even had a remote chance but we still did. We still want to play for pride; we want to play because we want to compete. We want to play because the guy beside you is playing hard and you don't want to let him down, so none of those things change."
And let's face it; trying to win one game at a time makes the task seem a little less daunting than pondering a 10-0 finish and all the mathematical variables that would still have to break the Senators' way to secure a playoff berth.
"The odds are still really against us, and what's been working for us is thinking about the next game," said Senators centre Jason Spezza
. "That's how we've been winning and there's no point in changing now. Realistically, there are still a lot of points to be made up and we're not there yet, where it's worth looking at it.
"We've just got to win our games and let everything else take care of itself and if we get down to the last three or four games, maybe then we start scoreboard watching and stuff like that. Right now, we're just trying to win games."
Captain Daniel Alfredsson
agreed, saying "the challenge is to stay in the present.
"The odds are still really against us, and what's been working for us is thinking about the next game. That's how we've been winning and there's no point in changing now. Realistically, there are still a lot of points to be made up and we're not there yet, where it's worth looking at it. We've just got to win our games and let everything else take care of itself." - Jason Spezza
"The closer we get, the more attention it's going to create but for us, it's just taking it day by day. The odds are not great that we're going to make the playoffs but we're giving ourselves a chance, which is more than we could have hoped for a few months ago."
Still, this is a group that insists it will do its level best to resist any temptation to pay closer attention to what is happening above them in the standings. The fortunes of the Montreal Canadiens, Florida Panthers and Buffalo Sabres are still something to worry about on another day.
"I think I can speak for most guys when I say that we're really just worried about what we're doing," said defenceman Brendan Bell. "We were so far out of it or such a long shot two or three weeks ago ... that stuff didn't matter. It was easy to focus on our game and playing the way we're supposed to. We've succeeded in that and it's gotten us results.
"I'm sure it may be a little more difficult if we keep this up but I think right now, we're having a lot of fun. We're coming to the rink every day, there's not a lot of pressure on us and we know what we're supposed to be doing out there every day. I think that's why the results are coming and if we stick to that and leave the distractions outside of the room, we'll be all right."
Nothing wrong with a bit of extra hope either.
"Bigger miracles have happened," Alfredsson said with a grin.
Around the boards
Defenceman Anton Volchenkov (lower body) didn't practise today but Clouston expects he'll be good to go against the Hurricanes ... After tomorrow, the Senators' road trip takes them to Atlanta on Saturday, Tampa on Sunday and a key matchup with Florida on March 31 before the final stop in Boston on April 2 ... Ottawa's next appearance at Scotiabank Place is April 4 vs. the Philadelphia Flyers.