'We need to finish strong'

BRUCE GARRIOCH

, Last Updated: 6:32 AM ET

BOSTON -- As Senators practice wrapped up at Boston University, Cory Clouston gathered the players around and schooled them on what he wants in the final six games of the season.

"We need to finish strong," Clouston told the troops. "There's a lot of hockey left to be played."

Clouston will be hoping his motivational message gets through as the Senators gear up to face the first-place Bruins tonight to wrap up a six-game trip.

Eliminated from the playoffs after a 5-2 loss to the Panthers Tuesday, the Senators arrived at their Boston hotel in the wee hours yesterday and woke up to the reality their club won't get a shot at the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1996. It's also the first time this core group of Senators is facing a spring without playoffs.

"We always knew we were in a tough position, but until we play the last games, it's not really going to sink in," said centre Jason Spezza.

But it sure looked like reality had sunk in yesterday. The dressing room was quiet as the players took off their gear.

"We've been trying to patch it up (since Christmas). It was a lot of fun to talk about having a chance (to make the playoffs) and it was nice to get ourselves in that position," said captain Daniel Alfredsson. "The positive is that we've got to try to keep it going and, hopefully, we'll be able to finish strong."

As reported by Sun Media last week, GM Bryan Murray plans to talk with Clouston in the near future to remove his "interim" tag and get a contract extension completed.

"We'll try to deal with it immediately. Either at the beginning of the week or the following week and figure out where we're going with Cory," said Murray. "If we had played like we had been playing since Cory took over, we wouldn't be fighting for a playoff spot. We'd be there."

OFF THE GLASS

Murray plans to continue talks with the agents for looming unrestricted free agents Mike Comrie and Chris Neil at the end of the season ... Senators players are looking ahead to the world championship in Switzerland beginning April 24. While Canada will look at Dany Heatley, Mike Fisher and Chris Phillips, Jason Spezza is also interested. "It's definitely something I'd consider," said Spezza, who may get squeezed out. Alfredsson hasn't been contacted by Swedish brass, but would consider representing his country. "I'm not exactly sure where I stand," said Alfredsson. "Usually, if I'm healthy, I make myself available to go. That was before I had three kids. That's something I'm going to discuss with my wife and the training staff here. I'll probably make a decision in the next week." ... Brian Lee will likely be the only Senator sent to Binghamton for its playoff run once the NHL season ends. Brendan Bell would have to clear waivers and the Senators don't want to take a chance on losing him.

AROUND THE BOARDS

The Senators plan to bring D Erik Karlsson -- their first-round pick in 2008 -- to North America from Sweden this spring. He likely won't play in Binghamton, but the organization will work with him on his conditioning. The 5-foot-10 Karlsson weighed 157 lbs. when he was drafted as an 18-year-old. "He is strictly a prospect," said Murray. "The indication we have from Erik and his agent is that he does want to come to North America and he's a very talented kid, but he's a kid. If he can play and help us, we would be the first people to give him that opportunity. I'm not saying he's part of the answer to any problems. He will, hopefully, be part of the solution, but he won't be the solution." ... University of Denver F Patrick Wiercioch, Ottawa's second-round pick in 2008, won't be leaving college next season to join the Senators.

BRUCE.GARRIOCH@SUNMEDIA.CA


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