No lull for Senators

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 10:01 AM ET

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Things are looking clear for the Senators this morning.

As in two points clear of the Hurricanes for top spot in the Eastern Conference and five points clear of the Sabres for first place in the Northeast Division.

If the Senators are determined to play their best hockey going into the playoffs, then they took another step in the right direction with a 4-0 victory over the Devils last night as they took over sole possession from Carolina in the race for home-ice advantage in the East.

Led by a solid 22-save performance from Ray Emery -- his third shutout of the season -- and goals from Antoine Vermette, Patrick Eaves, Zdeno Chara and Dany Heatley, the Senators also gave themselves a little breathing room in battle with Buffalo for the Northeast crown.

"(Being No. 1) means a lot," said Senators coach Bryan Murray. "I know you're going to say you still have to win in the playoffs, but the regular season is a long run and I believe it means something.

"This helps you to develop for the playoffs. When you get a nice tidy win like we did (last night), it makes you feel good going into the playoffs and it gives you some kind of reference when you get into the playoffs. We're playing well together as a team and these are good victories for us. We just want to keep this going."

DEVILS IN A FUNK

Though the Devils likely have a playoff spot locked up with 76 points (No. 6 in the East), the club is limping toward the finish line and last night's visit by the Senators isn't going to instill any confidence.

In fact, the Devils, without the retired Scott Stevens and the departed Scott Niedermayer on the blue line, look like a shadow of their former selves.

That was never more evident than Vermette's 17th goal of the season with only 20 seconds left in the second period, which gave the Senators a three-goal advantage going into the third.

After Chris Kelly's shot was blocked, the New Jersey blueliners allowed Vermette to skate untouched into the slot and fire a bullet by goalie Martin Brodeur.

REDDEN IMPRESSED

"A goal like that can really hurt a team," said Vermette. "That makes it tough for them to think they have a chance to come back. We just played such a good team game. That's what we need."

Senators defenceman Wade Redden was impressed with the way Ottawa kept its strong play going after Saturday's emotional 4-2 win over Buffalo.

"We just played a strong team game," said Redden. "We came off a big win against the Sabres and we didn't want to come in here and have a lull. It's important to beat good teams like this. It's going to help our confidence."

The Devils' top line of Patrik Elias, Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta had a frustrating night. They combined for 13 of the Devils' 22 shots with Elias getting eight.

"Our line has to score," Gomez said.

"We'll take some of the blame, in fact most of it. As a line, we're getting opportunities. We need to score."


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