Ottawa (29-38-10) at Florida (29-36-12)

By MATT BEARDMORE, STATS Writer Wednesday, Mar 30, 2011 Puck Drop: 7:30 pm EDT Thu Mar 31, 2011

The Ottawa Senators aren’t going to the playoffs, but they are at least giving themselves reason for some optimism as they look ahead to 2011-12.

The Senators look to continue their improved late-season play Thursday night when they face the Florida Panthers in a matchup of teams eliminated from postseason contention.

The Senators (29-38-10), last in the Eastern Conference, have five games left in a season that fell apart during a 1-13-4 slump from Dec. 29-Feb. 9. Ottawa, though, has managed to go 12-8-2 since while killing off 76 of 79 penalties.

“We’re just doing a lot of good things,” coach Cory Clouston said following a 5-2 loss to Tampa Bay on Tuesday that snapped a three-game point streak. “We feel we have a good strategy going into each game. The guys understand what they need to do, we’re getting good goaltending and we’re reading and reacting. It’s a credit to the guys going out there.”

Former Panther Craig Anderson(notes) has been one of the major reasons for Ottawa’s turnaround, going 8-4-1 with a 1.99 goals-against average in 14 starts since being acquired from Colorado last month.

In his second start following that deal, Anderson made 23 saves as the Senators defeated the Panthers 5-1 on Feb. 23 to snap a season-worst 0-7-3 home stretch.

Anderson made 33 saves and defenseman Erik Karlsson(notes) scored twice in the final 8:48 of the last meeting, a 2-1 Senators win at Florida on March 10. That extended Ottawa’s winning streak in the series to five.

Ottawa, two points back of the Panthers (29-36-12), has won three straight road games in the series and has gone 15-3-0 in its last 18 at Sunrise.

That doesn’t bode well for a Florida club that scored five times during a 0-3-2 trip that ended with a 3-2 shootout loss to Columbus on Tuesday. The Panthers have lost a season-high six straight.

“We looked like we were playing our fifth game in seven nights,” said coach Peter DeBoer, whose club was eliminated from playoff contention for a league-record 10th straight season Friday. “It was a real gutsy effort by our group. The last game of a road trip that hasn’t been easy.”

The last time Florida lost seven in a row was an 0-6-1 stretch from Feb. 1-March 2, 2010.

Backup Scott Clemmensen(notes) could make his second consecutive start for the Panthers, which could be a positive for Florida considering the way Tomas Vokoun(notes) has struggled against the Senators. Vokoun, who suffered back tightness after regulation in a 2-1 shootout loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday, has gone 3-11-0 with a 3.36 GAA in 15 starts versus Ottawa.

Clemmensen, though, allowed all five goals Feb. 23.

Ottawa will try to sweep the season series from Florida for the first time since 2006-07.

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Thursday, Mar 31