The Ottawa Senators still have a slim shot at earning home-ice
advantage in the first round of the playoffs, but they’re building
momentum even if they begin the postseason on the road.
A visit to Tampa Bay doesn’t figure to slow them down.
The Senators look to make it eight wins in nine games Thursday
night in their road finale against the Lightning, whom they’ll try
to beat for the 18th time in 24 meetings.
With a pair of five-game losing streaks and winning streaks of
11 and six, Ottawa (44-31-5) has been one of the NHL’s most
up-and-down teams since the beginning of January.
The Senators have been hot as they head toward the playoffs.
Ottawa’s six-game win streak was snapped with a 4-1 loss to the New
York Islanders on Saturday, but it bounced back with a 5-2 victory
in Florida on Tuesday behind two goals from Mike Fischer.
“We did some good things. I thought we worked hard on the
penalty kill,” said coach Cory Clouston, whose team has held its
last eight opponents to 2 for 31 on the power play. “We generated
the offense that we wanted. I thought we lost a little bit of focus
toward the end of third but overall very happy with the game.”
The win combined with Montreal’s loss Tuesday ensured the
Senators can’t finish any lower than fifth in the Eastern
Conference. They can end up fourth with wins in their final two
games and three regulation losses by the Penguins, but will likely
be opening the postseason in Pittsburgh – the third first-round
meeting in four years between the teams.
Tuesday marked the 1,000th game of Daniel Alfredsson’s NHL
career, and while the Senators captain had just one assist, he
seems destined for more points Thursday. Alfredsson has eight goals
and 14 assists in his last 11 games against the Lightning
(31-36-12), during which Ottawa is 8-1-2.
The Senators are 17-4-2 in their last 23 games overall versus
Only Toronto has allowed more goals among Eastern clubs than the
Lightning, and coach Rick Tocchet’s team has looked especially
defenseless in its two most recent games. Tampa Bay trailed the New
York Rangers 4-0 after one period en route to a 5-0 loss Friday,
then found itself down 5-1 after 20 minutes in Tuesday’s 8-5 home
loss to Carolina.
“To put it mildly, the first period was pretty tough to watch,”
Tocchet said. “I feel sorry for the fans on this one.”
Antero Niittymaki fell to 4-9-0 with a 4.09 goals-against
average in his last 16 appearances and was relieved Tuesday by Mike
Smith, one game after Smith was chased in favor of Niittymaki.
Smith (2-3-0) has been better against Ottawa than Niittymaki, with
a 2.98 GAA inflated by a 7-1 road loss Oct. 15.
While the Senators fight for playoff position, the Lightning
will undoubtedly be trying to get Steven Stamkos some open looks at
the net. The top overall pick in the 2008 draft has 47 goals, one
behind Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Washington’s Alex Ovechkin
for the league lead.
Stamkos has three goals this season against Ottawa, two coming
in a 5-2 win at the St. Pete Times Forum on Oct. 29.