After missing the playoffs in 2008-09, the Ottawa Senators are one point away from returning.
With a postseason berth in reach, the Senators look for a sixth consecutive victory Thursday night when they host the Carolina Hurricanes.
When Ottawa’s run of 11 straight playoff appearances ended last season, its players dedicated themselves to avoiding a repeat of that disappointment. Now fifth in the Eastern Conference, the Senators (42-30-5) will clinch a playoff spot with their next victory or overtime loss.
“Last year, we let a lot of people down and let ourselves down, not being able to compete for the Stanley Cup,” forward Chris Kelly(notes) told the Senators’ official Web site. “To be one win away from being where we want to be is definitely a good feeling.”
Ottawa has won five in a row after dropping its previous five games. The Senators have scored 16 goals during their winning streak - their longest since an 11-game run Jan. 14-Feb. 4 - which continued Tuesday with a 5-4 overtime road win over East-leading Washington.
Making the streak even more impressive, Ottawa has managed it with team goal-scoring co-leader Milan Michalek(notes) and top-scoring defenseman Filip Kuba(notes) each still day-to-day with lower-body injuries.
“At this time of year, not only do you want to win games, but you want to feel good about how you’re playing, too,” said Ottawa’s Jason Spezza(notes), who had two goals and two assists against the Capitals. “Confidence is huge this time of year, and there’s a big difference between the win and the loss and how the mood is in the room the next day.”
Kovalev notched a hat trick in a 4-2 home win over Carolina on Dec. 12, the Senators’ lone victory in three games against the Hurricanes (33-35-9) this season.
Ottawa, however, has outscored the Hurricanes 18-6 during a four-game home winning streak in this series. The Senators’ Brian Elliott(notes) is 2-0-0 with a 1.50 goals-against average at home against Carolina.
While the Senators have a playoff spot virtually wrapped up, it’s desperation time for the Hurricanes, who are 11th in the East and seven points out of a playoff spot with five games remaining. They helped keep their slim hopes alive Wednesday, winning 2-1 at Montreal behind goals from Eric Staal(notes) and Brandon Sutter(notes) and 34 saves from Cam Ward(notes).
“You never can say never and obviously the standings don’t look like they’re in our favor but mathematically we’re not out of it and you’ve got to come to the rink and compete,” Ward said. “At the end of the day this is what we get paid to do and you’ve got to wear that jersey with some pride and compete.”
Ward has stopped 60 of 62 shots to win his two games since missing 19 with a back injury. However, he’s compiled a 5.57 GAA while dropping his last three starts in Ottawa.