PITTSBURGH -- How ironic that the Senators will today play the Penguins, the team that knocked them out of last year's playoffs.
A loss to Sid The Kid and his boys this afternoon can be considered a formal end to their Stanley Cup dreams this season, too.
With 64 points and 15 games remaining on their schedule, the Senators would have to run the table to finish with 94 points, which is what they and the eighth-place Bruins ended up with in claiming the last two tickets to the 2008 post-season dance.
Without any other real gauge to go by, that means the Senators' "tragic" number is one.
One loss, or one failed bid to grab both available points in a game, and Ottawa fans can essentially give up the ghost and make plans that don't include buying playoff tickets for the first time in a dozen years.
"Mathematically, we're still alive," Dany Heatley said yesterday after the Senators stopped for a practice at Harvard University on their way out of Boston to Pittsburgh. "We're going to try and win every game, we're going to try and get all the points."
What else is there to do?
The Senators were on a nice little mini-run, winning four in a row, before they were sabotaged by the Bruins and their Irish luck Thursday at TD Banknorth Garden. Most everyone agreed that the Sportsnet Turning Point came early in the game, when Zdeno Chara blindly spun around to stop Heatley's shot at the open net. The puck dropped straight down, and within seconds it had gone from Patrice Bergeron to Aaron Ward (as he stepped out of the box) to the back of the net behind Alex Auld.
"That play couldn't have been worse timing," Heatley was still musing the morning after. "Instead of going up 1-0, it hits his stick and they have perfect timing out of the penalty box. Instead of being up 1-0, you're down 1-0 just like that. Not very good odds (of that happening), but he's got a pretty big stick."
Coach Cory Clouston did like the way the Senators battled back from a 3-0 deficit. They'll need more of that same resolve against the Penguins.
Since firing Michel Therrien and replacing him behind the bench with Dan Bylsma, Pittsburgh is the hottest team in the NHL with a 9-1-2 record.
"I still think you prepare basically the same way," Clouston said when asked about playing when the potential for a playoff spot is no longer a reality. "You prepare to win the game. Our guys, as you saw (Thursday) night, we don't want to and we're not ready to throw in the towel on any game. I thought our guys battled back very hard."
Clouston also said motivation shouldn't be a problem, even when it's certain there will be no games to be played following the regular-season finale April 11 in Toronto.
"There's many things you can look at," he began. "Personal pride, team pride, wanting to play hard for the guy beside you. There's nothing like putting your equipment on knowing that everybody is going to be working hard. There's nothing worse than knowing there's going to be guys who are going to take the night off. We don't have that right now.
"(Thursday) was a perfect sample. It's our third game in four nights, we played the night before, and the last 10-12 minutes, we didn't throw the towel in. We tried to battle right to the very end, and to me that shows a lot of character.
"We only gave up 22 shots, and two or three were off odd-man rushes at the end of a power play. That ended up being the difference in the game. A couple of nights before, we were getting a couple of those breaks. It could have easily been 1-0 (for the Senators, had Heatley scored) and that could have changed the whole complexion of the hockey game. It didn't and now we just have to move forward."
Heatley says the Senators plan to give playoff-bound opponents the same hard time teams going nowhere gave Ottawa the past 11 seasons.
"I think we still want to play every game hard. There's a lot of pride at stake," said Heatley. "There's also the spoiler factor. We're going to play hard all the way down the stretch."