NEWARK, N.J. - The Senators fell through the trap door leading to eighth place in the Eastern Conference.
After a 4-2 loss to the Devils at the Prudential Center on Saturday afternoon, Ottawa will face the Rangers in the first round of the playoffs.
Washington beat the Rangers 4-1 and Florida defeated Carolina 4-1 on Saturday night, ensuring the Senators fell from seventh (and a first-round matchup with the Bruins) to eighth and will take on top-seeded New York in Round 1, likely beginning on Thursday at Madison Square Garden.
The Senators played the way coach Paul MacLean expected them to in a meaningless game. That is, without the intensity and desperation they had in the four games leading up to and including their playoff-spot clincher last Sunday in Long Island.
“It’s over now, so it’s good,” he said. “We’re excited about next week and getting into the Stanley Cup playoffs, and having an opportunity there.
“We just sort of got through this one safe and healthy. Now we can start preparing for the Stanley Cup playoffs. We’re excited about that.”
What needs to be changed from the last three games, MacLean was asked.
“Work would be the first thing we could do. If we did that, it’d make a significant difference in the outcome of the games. Be a little more mentally focused and sharp ... we can’t just be giving away goals and expect to keep up.
“We have to get a little better focus, a little better work ethic and rely on the structure of our team to have a little success.”
Stephen Gionta’s first NHL goal at 10:55 of the third period proved to be the winner. Gionta, the brother of Habs captain Brian Gionta, capitalized on a rebound after Alexei Ponikarovsky fended off Daniel Alfredsson to break in on Craig Anderson.
Ilya Kovalchuk’s second of the game, into an empty net, sealed New Jersey’s sixth victory in a row.
Defenceman Matt Gilroy, who had one point in his first 13 games with the Senators, had a goal and an assist before this one was 35 minutes old.
“Pretty sloppy on both teams,” Gilroy said in assessing the game. “But we’ve got to move past and we’ve got to be ready. Now the real season starts. We’ve got to go home and get focused.”
Fourth-line centre Jim O’Brien ended a 16-game slump with a sharp-angle shot, after a setup from Erik Condra, to give the Senators a 2-1 lead just before the 14- minute mark of the second.
Less than three minutes later, Alfredsson made a bad pinch with the Senators short-handed to leave Sergei Gonchar the lone man back on a rarely seen 5-on-1 break. Petr Sykora finished it off to tie things up.
It was the only one of 15 second-period shots to beat Craig Anderson. It seemed at least 10 of his saves were tough ones, the best being a glove stop off a Sykora breakaway.
“We created a lot of good things in this game, but we didn’t get the outcome we wanted. We’ve got to tighten up a little bit. Get down into that playoff hockey mode.”
Alfredsson’s ready for the playoffs to begin.
“We’re really looking forward to starting a new season here,” said Alfredsson. “It’s always a long year and a big grind. I can speak for myself, anyway ... it’s extremely satisfying to be in the playoffs again.
“We have three or four days here to get ready, and get our legs going a little more. I think we’ll bounce back and play some better hockey.”
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