A 'tough' pill to swallow

BRUCE GARRIOCH, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:39 AM ET

SUNRISE, FLA. -- Stick a fork in the Senators.

They have been officially relegated to playing out the string in their final six games of the regular season after they were eliminated from the playoff race by going out with barely a whimper in a 5-2 loss to the Florida Panthers last night at the BankAtlantic Center.

"It's reality and it's not easy. It's very disappointing. Obviously, we knew our chances were pretty slim. We pretty well had to win out with quite a few games left," said defenceman Chris Phillips. "Once it's reality it hits home a little harder. For myself, this is my first time going through this, it's tough. It's frustrating to see how good our team can be when we play well."

For the first time since 1996 there won't be a post-season for the Senators as the club saw its 11-year playoff run come to a halt.

"It's not something that snuck up on us. We've known the situation for a long time," said captain Daniel Alfredsson. "Since (coach) Cory (Clouston) came, our focus hasn't been only on trying to get into the playoffs, it's been on turning things around, which we definitely have."

WENT OUT MEEKLY

Clouston pulled Brian Ellifor the second time in three games after the goalie gave up four goals on 21 shots.

"A couple of goals he probably should have had," said Clouston. "He's still a young goalie. Those are things he has to overcome."

Only Chris Kelly and Chris Campoli were able to beat Panthers goalie Craig Anderson.

If the Senators were supposed to be desperate, they sure didn't look the part.

It wasn't all Elliott's fault and it was a little surprising to see him get the hook in favour of Alex Auld at 2:20 of the third after Stephen Weiss gave the Panthers a three-goal lead.

"We didn't really come out with enough passion or fire," said Elliott. "They were all over us the whole game. Every time they had the puck in their zone, they were on us and we didn't have much time to make a play."

After a scoreless first, the Panthers took control of this game in the second and put it away. The Senators looked like a team that is finished for the season. Campoli scored at 13:27 of the third to cut Florida's lead to two goals, but it was too little and too late.

The game turned on a double minor to Brendan Bell with 3:59 left in the second when it was still 1-1. Replays showed Kelly actually high-sticked Nathan Horton, but it was called on Bell.

Florida scored power-play goals 1:23 apart to go up 3-1.

"It was a four-minute high stick that made the whole difference," Clouston said.

"It wasn't even the right guy. They got the wrong guy. It's frustrating."

On Richard Zednik's go-ahead goal, he was able to push his own rebound by Elliott after being allowed to drive to the net untouched.

Florida's third goal, by Bryan McCabe, went in off a skate.

Kelly, who had gone nine games without a point and hadn't scored since March 11 against Tampa Bay, scored his 10th of the season at 12:24 of the second to tie it 1-1. Taking a pass in the slot from Nick Foligno, Kelly beat Anderson on the stick side.

HALF-EFFORT

The Panthers opened the scoring following a weak effort by Jason Spezza that turned into a 2-on-1 for Florida. He let Cory Stillman skate by him untouched near the blue line. Stillman threw a pass across the slot to Horton, who beat Elliott stick side at 4:35 of the second.

With the Panthers fighting for their playoff lives, you had to expect this was going to be tight-checking. The smallest mistake can make the difference for a club trying to stay in the hunt against the Habs.

There wasn't even much in the way of scoring chances in the first.

The Senators close out this six-game road trip tomorrow against the Bruins at the TD BankNorth Garden.

BRUCE.GARRIOCH@SUNMEDIA.CA


Videos

Photos