Two plus two makes 'fore'

BRUCE GARRIOCH, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:51 PM ET

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Senators are in golf heaven -- but they're not ready to book tee times.

The Senators are facing a must-win game tonight against the Florida Panthers at the BankAtlantic Center if Ottawa is going to stave off being officially eliminated from the NHL playoffs for the first time since 1996.

A victory would leave the Senators barely alive with only six games left in the regular season. A regulation loss to the Panthers and a win by the Montreal Canadiens against the Chicago Blackhawks at the Bell Centre would spell the end for Ottawa.

Tying Montreal in the standings would do Ottawa no good. The Habs hold the head-to-head tie-breaker by virtue of their 4-1-0 record against Ottawa.

'SOLID 60 MINUTES'

Coming off a 3-0 shutout over the Tampa Bay Lightning Sunday at the St. Pete Times Forum, the Senators have a chance to at least leave their fans with hope for next year by closing out the year strong with only 12 days remaining in the regular season.

"We've got to play it one game at time. Obviously, our backs are against the wall every game. We've just got to come out with a strong effort. We were disappointed with the way we played in Atlanta and we rebounded well (against Tampa)," said centre Chris Kelly.

"We're just trying to look forward. We just have to try to play a solid 60 minutes. We can't just have spurts of good play. This is a good team that's battling for their playoff appearance. We know that we're going to get their best game and they're going to come out hard."

The Senators, who have been one of the NHL's hottest teams since coach Cory Clouston took over last month, have maintained they can't afford to look at the big picture. The reality is the task is too daunting when the players look at it that way.

The veterans simply want to avoid going out quickly and quietly, as they did in Atlanta in a 6-3 loss Saturday.

"For us, this is a good measuring stick," captain Daniel Alfredsson said. "We're going to be able to see if we can match their intensity. If we do, we'll win. That's the task for us to get ready mentally."

Goaltender Brian Elliott, coming off first NHL shutout with 20 stops against the Bolts, will be back in goal tonight.

Elliott was pleased with the bounce-back performance after getting an early hook vs. Atlanta (four goals on 21 shots). He didn't have to make a lot of stops, but if he had allowed the Lightning to get one through, it could have been a different game.

"You're always upset if you don't play well or if the team loses or isn't playing like we should. Getting the pull doesn't make you feel that good. You just have to take it with a grain of salt, come back and redeem yourself," said Elliott, who has a 16-6-3 record with a 2.64 GAA.

BRUCE.GARRIOCH@SUNMEDIA.CA


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