'The Comeback Kids'

DON BRENNAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:02 AM ET

Another day, another bitter rival to foil.

That, and getting back to the .500 mark for the first time since Dec. 8, will be the mission of the Senators when they head back to the once-again-friendly confines of Scotiabank Place tonight.

The Montreal Canadiens come to town three points up on the ninth-place Florida Panthers, and five ahead of a Buffalo Sabres team the Senators dismissed Tuesday.

Hence, the Habs will be desperate for victory against Ottawa, which has now won six of its last seven and five straight at home while doing some reputation repairs.

The Senators have surrendered at least the first goal in the last five games and have rallied to win four of them.

"We just try to make ourselves look good ... spot them a few then come back," Mike Fisher said yesterday, tongue firmly planted in cheek. "The Comeback Kids."

They might finally be over that nasty case of the hiccups, at least.

"We've just seemed to find our game and relax, we just haven't given up," said a more serious Fisher. "We've been down in games and we just seem to keep pushing, finding ways to win.

"That's what good teams do. And I think that's what we've become. We've become a good team this year. We knew we were, we just weren't playing that way early.

"We waited a little too late to get things together."

Not if they want to pull off the most miraculous dash to a playoff spot in NHL history, they haven't. In that case, they're right on schedule.

After Carolina's win over the New Jersey Devils last night, the Senators are 13 points out of the post-season picture, with 13 games to play. In short, they have to grab all 26 points available in order to have a prayer. An all-star squad would have to get a lot of good bounces to accomplish that feat.

At the same time, the Senators are showing more moxie than a lesser group might when backed into a similar corner. Apparently, after 11 consecutive post-season appearances, Ottawa is not quite ready to hand over its invitation.

"What the team's been questioned on all year is character and I think that's what we've shown a lot of," said coach Cory Clouston, whose team fell to eight games below .500 when he took the reigns Feb. 3, but has been charging back since. "It's easy to throw the towel in at this time of year, if you're quote-unquote out of the playoffs, which we know we're not.

"Absolutely, we've had some off games. But overall, I've thought our team has shown a lot of character. You don't fall behind and come back from deficits, you don't go on a road trip like we did earlier on and have that success without character, in my opinion."

Meanwhile, Fisher and others in the room balk at the term "spoiler," even if there really is nothing left for them to do standings-wise.

'WE'RE TAKING PRIDE'

"Playing spoiler means you're on the outside looking in," said Fisher, whose team is 0-2-2 vs. the Habs this season. "It's not a place we want to be in. We're taking pride in our game and playing hard. We've become a much better team and pretty resilient. It's shown character we couldn't find or show earlier. We're technically not out, that's for sure. Chances aren't great, but we're still fighting. We know the situation we're in. We're just trying to continue on. You can see by our play, we're not giving up.

"We're still playing hard and that's a good sign."

Clouston thinks so, too.

Asked if he believes the team is having better results because the pressure and expectations have disappeared, he wasn't buying the theory.

"Honestly, we're just looking at each game at a time," said Clouston. "We're not worried about playoffs or who's in and who's out. We're just trying to win the next game. And that hasn't really changed.

"I think every day just by practising hard, the way you play, that creates character, that brings out character. Have I come in and said let's talk about character? No. But I've talked about we want to be tougher to play against, I've talked about we want a lot more structure in certain areas, we've talked about how we want to play.

"In order to have success, you have to show character."

DON.BRENNAN@SUNMEDIA.CA


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