Senators-Lightning Preview

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

Tampa Bay.

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.