All they can hope for now are small, hollow victories.
They've got no shot at the playoffs and nothing at stake in the stretch drive. They couldn't get it done themselves, so all they can do now is try and serve everyone else a few sips of their misery.
It's no fun being reduced to a spoiler in April, but it's all they have left.
"It is a little demoralizing that you're not competing for the playoffs anymore because that's everyone's dream, to be in the playoffs and compete for the Stanley Cup,'' said Minnesota's Brian Rolston. "When that no longer is in sight, it can take the wind out of your sails. But you should still be motivated as an individual to go out there and play as hard as you can. Our job is still to go out and win hockey games.''
Pierre-Marc Bouchard admits it's harder to get up for a game, harder to bear down in practice when you're out of it.
"It's a little bit tougher to prepare, but guys want to finish strong and have some fun, play some good games,'' he said. "The last couple of weeks are going to be easier if you're winning games than if you're losing them.
"We just have a goal of finishing strong, giving a hard time to the other teams.''
Head coach Jacques Lemaire says the old cliche of playing for next year is very true in this instance.
"I think there's a lot of guys who should play at their best so they can to prove to the organization that I can play because some of them might not be here,'' he said. "Were going to learn (which) guys don't quit. That's one thing.''
SENS SHOOTING BLANKS
It makes no sense, with all of Ottawa's fire power and stellar netminding, but they are winless in their last six shootouts, missing on 16 straight shots.
"We're all scorers, we all have moves, we can all put the puck in,'' Dany Heatley told the Ottawa Sun. "Maybe we're thinking too much instead of just scoring goals.''
Daniel Alfredsson was the last Senator to score in a shootout back on Dec. 9 in Vancouver. Fortunately for the Sens, they won't have to worry about it much longer. "Shootouts aren't part of the playoffs,'' said Heatley. "So we should be okay.''
J.R. FANCIES COACHING
Asked what he'd do in the next life, once he retires as a player, Jeremy Roenick didn't hesitate for a second. "I'm going to be a coach,'' he said. "And make everybody else's life miserable.''
Having played for Mike Keenan, Ken Hitchcock and Andy Murray, he knows all about being a tough taskmaster, but says it wouldn't all be nose to the grindstone.
"I'd make a good coach. My bed check would be to make sure nobody's in their rooms.'
NET LOSS FOR BLUES GOALIE
There's never a good time to blow out your knee, but in Curtis Sanford's case the timing couldn't have been any worse. The St. Louis netminder was one game away from reaching a games-played clause in his contract when he tore the ligament in his right knee. Had he played in 35 games this season, he would have earned $700,000 next year. But he went down in Game 34 and will have to settle for $450,000.
THIS, THAT AND THE OTHER THING
Is it just a coincidence that St. Louis's power play dropped 15 spots (9th in the NHL to 24th) when Chris Pronger left and that Edmonton's power play improved 15 spots (29th to 14th) when he arrived? ... Olli Jokinen has four OT winners this year, one shy of the NHL's single season record... Think Kirk Maltby misses former Grind Liner Darren McCarty? Maltby's goal on Monday ended a 33-game slump ... Wow, quite the informative poll the Oilers conducted on their Jumbotron last game: "Who is the better hockey parent - Bonnie Lindros or Walter Gretzky?'' Next week's question: who do you like better, Santa Claus or Hitler?
NO PAIN, NO CANES
Some awfully good teams are in some awfully bad shape heading down the stretch, none worse than Carolina. Twice this week they couldn't even scrape together 20 players on game night.
With six players hurt (Erik Cole, Josef Vasicek, Andrew Hutchinson, Doug Weight, Bret Hedican and Niclas Wallin) they went with 19 in a pair of losses. In their last six games, the once high-powered Canes scored only 12 goals.
ROOKIE OWNS UP
It's a traumatic experience to shoot the puck into your own goal. Imagine doing it in your second NHL game. Pens defenceman Noah Welch did, sliding it past an unsuspecting Marc-Andre Fleury while trying to ring it around the end boards. But he gave the Pens a glimpse of his character by shrugging it off and scoring the first of his career (against another team) two shifts later. "What are you going to do,'' he told reporters. "You can sit and mope and have a bad third period, or you can laugh about it and make sure it doesn't happen again.''
Welch, 23, scored four points in three games while filling in for suspended Eric Cairns and was promptly reassigned to the minors.
From the Detroit News: The Red Wings have the best regular-season record in the NHL over the last 15 years (683-341-161, 1,527 points). That's 116 points better than second-place New Jersey ... The Blue Jackets are a respectable 89-82-29 all time at home. The reason they haven't made the playoffs? They're 44-131-25 on the road ... Flames D Andrew Ference on why Calgary isn't sweating its recent skid. "Why panic? You panic, then you lose. That's what teams that don't have experience and don't have leadership do.''
SABRE NO BEST
Sabres defenceman Jay McKee is back at work after the uncomfortable business of having his nose broken. Again. On purpose.
He busted it in a game last Friday and had it broken and re-set on Tuesday. The process involved freezing it, shoving two long tools up his nostrils and cracking everything back into place.
The other option was to leave it the way it was, looking like something from the cover of Ring magazine. "Guys go through it, it's part of the game,'' he told the Buffalo News. "I would certainly like a straight nose.''
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BIG GAME THIS WEEK
CALGARY AT EDMONTON: Lose and they could miss the playoffs. Win and they've got a shot at home ice in the first round.
TAMPA AT FLORIDA: The Swordfish Bowl - A coastal classic between rivals chasing same playoff spot.
VANCOUVER AT ANAHEIM: Burke's new team tries to keep Burke's old team out of the post-season.
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 5
SAN JOSE AT COLORADO: Sharks desperately need this win, and they desperately need it against this team.